Feeling My Feelings

August 3rd, 2015


“What other people think of me is none of my business.” (Wayne Dyer)

You know the drill. Your anxiety spikes and turns you into a basket-case just before a meeting with your boss. But you don’t want your girlfriend to think you’re a total nut job, so you explain to her just how high the stakes are and just how much is riding on this meeting.

Or maybe you’re an introvert who has spent a little too much time around a few too many people. But you get invited to a party and all your friends are there and you go — even though you secretly wished to just stay home and watch TV all night by yourself. You arrive at the party, and people mention you acting a little anti-social. You launch into a long explanation about how you’re just tired and have a lot on your mind.

Or you’re super stressed out about money or a relationship. A good friend sends you an email asking how you are, and you dump everything out to them. Then, realizing how much of a “Debbie Downer” you must sound like, you offer an apology of sorts saying, “This is very unusual for me to let things get me down like this.”

For some reason, we feel the need to justify our feelings to others. We’re afraid that they’re judging us for being emotional people, and, in reality, they probably are. We all do it; it’s hard not to — even if it is almost always a reflection and projection of how harshly we judge ourselves.

So, what are we to do? We could constantly monitor how we’re coming across to others, and explain every little thing we do to make sure no one judges us harshly. Of course, that’s impossible to do. You can’t control what someone else does, especially when it’s something they do in their minds.

Instead, we could give ourselves permission to feel our feelings. That’s something you can actually control. Moreover, when you do this, you put yourself in a position to actually learn from your emotions.

This is the journey I am on. I’ve been a very cerebral person for a very long time. But lately, I’ve begun to wonder why I feel so…emotionally stunted. I think it may be because I’ve felt the need to explain away my feelings — imposing some sort of rational basis for my emotional ups and downs, rather than simply accepting that I feel this way or that and asking myself probing questions about it.

So, here’s what I’ve been working on: Instead of pretending to feel okay — and explaining to the people around me why I might come across as if I’m not feeling okay — I’m trying to let myself feel what I’m feeling — even if I’m not feeling particularly okay at the moment. It is my hope that this will allow me to discover what I need to do in order to move past a not-so-okay feeling.

I’ve grown weary of pretending to be perfect. I’m going to let myself be human without offering an apology. I’m not perfect. I’m tired of hiding that. All that has ever done is damage my relationships with the people who matter most to me.

Of course, there are times when it makes sense to explain oneself. Someone may have misunderstood something. I may hurt someone accidentally. Explaining my actions (and the intent behind my actions) may bring clarity to confusion at times. The vast majority of the time, however, the only person who needs an explanation about me is me — so I can figure out what’s going on inside of me and work through it.

I can’t control what other people think of me. But I’m learning that if I can accept myself in this moment, I might discover what I need to do in order to actually feel better — instead of just trying to look better.

Photo Credit: Shlomit Wolf

Up Your Nose with a Rubber Hose

October 13th, 2014

For all two of you who have asked for an update, I’ll offer the latest news regarding my ongoing health struggles. I went in on October 1 to have a full TransNasal Esophagoscopy (TNE) performed. Essentially, this is where they insert a flexible tube up your nose and down your throat and through the entire lengthy of your esophagus to the top of your stomach.


I got there and checked in. I was asked to put on a gown and wait. And wait. And wait.


No one looks good in these gowns. I must confess I began to wonder just how many people had worn this particular gown. What kinds of strange bodily fluids had been absorbed into the threadbare fabric barely keeping me from full exposure? I decided it was best to not consider this at all. I needed to distract myself somehow.

Thankfully, it was just at this time that someone arrived with a nice stack of paperwork for me to fill out — because nothing calms the nerves and distracts the mind like filling out paperwork in the doctor’s office. Honestly, it’s like the same 20 questions over and over and over — with about five new questions added in each time.

Name. Address. Phone number. Email. Name of your great-grandmother’s house cat. What is your favorite color? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? How long have you had these symptoms? How bad are they? Can you describe them in minute detail here (and they give you two lines in 6pt font)?

They asked me to describe my understanding of the procedure I was about to endure. Really. I had to tell them what they were going to do to me. In detail.

And then I was asked to read and sign this document:

IMG_5145Let me just say: this was a little more than I was prepared for. So, I started to freak out a little. My blood pressure and heart rate started to climb against my will. I’m signing a paper that says I’m having a procedure that may cause permanent scarring! This I was not “okay” with.

Three deep breaths.

And then I got to wait some more.

Three more deep breaths. I can feel my heart racing and my mind won’t stop telling me I’m never going to have a speaking voice. I’ll have to get one of those computers like Stephen Hawking has. But mine will be the cheap, Radio Shack version of it (because I’m not a bajillionaire like Dr. Hawking).

That’s when the nurse came in with the magic fishing line. I don’t know what else to call it. Fishing line. Dental floss. Something. It was this string attached to some gauze pads that had been soaked in something magical. Getting the string into my nose and just letting it sit there was quite a chore. My gag reflex has been so sensitive since this whole process began! We sprayed the Afrin stuff and the numbing stuff — four times! The nurse told me she’d never had a patient struggle as much as I did. I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed. But, eventually, we got everything where it needed to be.


And then I waited. And waited. And waited.

And the magical solution in which those magical gauze pads had been soaked began to work its magic.

Three deep breaths became three REALLY deep breaths. And the magic worked.

Eventually, the doctor came in and asked me how I was doing. I told him I had been extremely freaked out, but now I was strangely calm. He suggested it was not such a strange idea. I was heavily medicated. Heavy medication has that effect on a lot of people.

I became aware of how heavy my body felt — like someone had turned gravity up to 115%. My mind was slow. I would think of funny things to say 30 seconds after I should have said them. And, for some reason, I wasn’t scared. I couldn’t think of a horrible negative thing that might happen. I was really, really medicated.

The doctor said, “We could put you all the way under, but you’ve never been all the way under before. We don’t know how you’ll respond to the anesthesia, so I’d like to try to do the scope now — with you so relaxed. If it doesn’t work, we can put you to sleep. But I’d like to try it this way first. Would you like to try that?”

I nodded. “But not like a cat?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Not put me to sleep like a cat.” The joke was 30 seconds too late.

The nurse walked me to an elevator and down we went. Then through a hallway and into the operating room and then it all happened. I could feel it the whole time. That was surreal. First the scope with a viewing tube, then the biopsy port to take small tissue samples. That felt a bit like a tiny wire brush which rotated 360 degrees inside my esophagus, scraping the inner lining. They did that in three different places that I recall. And then it was over. It took probably 25 minutes, maybe 30, maybe 90. I couldn’t really keep track of time. Did I mention that I was heavily medicated? I think it was closer to 25.

And I’ve been waiting for nearly two weeks. I have a follow up scheduled for Friday, October 17. Until then, fingers crossed, prayers appreciated, good vibrations, etc. I’ll let you folks know what I hear from the doc later this week.


Another Update — From the Speech Pathologist

September 23rd, 2014

Today I got to visit the speech pathologist to see if she could see what the heck is going on with my throat. She and I have spoken on the phone a couple of times, so it was nice to finally put a face to the name.

So many questions…. Every time I visit the doctor’s office they seem to ask me the same questions. And then they add about 20 more on top of it all. When did this all start? How would you describe the pain? Does it get worse in the evening?

Today’s new questions: Is it possible you’ve been exposed to chemical fumes lately in your home or workplace? Could there be mold in your environments?

And then she hits me with the fact that we’re going to try the scope thing with the camera on the end again. This I was not prepared for. I told her, “You just went from being my favorite person in this building to my least favorite person in this building!”

She had the nurse give me extra lydocaine this time — I mean she pumped me full! And then we sort of just sat and waited for it to take effect. I was trying really hard not to let my anxiety get the best of me, but I will confess to you, dear reader, I was really freaked out. I have come to hate this slender tool that slides up my nose and gets hung up on my gag reflex. Hate. It. It makes me cry. I know. I know. I’m not supposed to admit that here, but it’s true. It’s almost like some sort of catharsis or something. That thing hits the back of my throat, and my gag reflex kicks in, my eyes water — and then I sit in my chair and big tears flow.

I am a proud man. I try to be a strong man. I am an intensely private man (you have no idea). And I do not allow anyone to come to these doctor’s appointments with me. This is foolish, I know. But it’s the truth. I do not like being seen in that state. Which probably only makes that state hit me a bit harder than most men of my age, stature, and status.

To date all of the people who have jammed my nose full of tubes have been patient and gentle. Today, I’ll add that my speech pathologist was more than that. It was as if she understood. She was kind. She allowed me to maintain as much dignity as possible — before jamming that thing up there so she could take a look at my vocal folds and epiglottis.

Things look relatively normal. Except they’re still red and puffy. Still can’t figure out what’s causing that. I’ve been on meds since July. It’s maddening. She said she doesn’t see any permanent damage — no scarring, no mass that needs to come out, no nodes or anything like that. Just red, swollen tissue.

She did say that my vocal folks are over-functioning for some reason. She says there may have been some kind of trauma to them a while back, and they had to compensate by trying harder. Then, by the time the trauma dissipated, I’d learned some bad habits. She thinks it may just take a while to unlearn and relearn.

So, I have exercises. But I still don’t have any answers.

Update — A Couple of Actual Events

September 15th, 2014

So many of you have asked so discretely, I figured it’s time for an official public update on my ongoing health issues. I am scheduled to meet with a speech pathologist next Tuesday. She’ll do some recording and some looking around. She’ll probably remind me about all the things I learned and promptly forgot in those speech classes I took from Sherry Landrum and others — all those years ago.

I confessed to her that some of this might just be that I’ve gotten lazy as I’ve gotten older. I used to warm up my voice before going onstage. I never do that anymore. I know how to breathe properly, but I probably don’t always do it. I know how to project without pushing, but I’m frequently asked to speak in large rooms without amplification. Often these rooms have terrible acoustics. So, I know I’m straining, and I’m hoping she’ll be able to remind me how to do things properly again.

Second, I am scheduled for a full upper endoscopy on October 1. They’ll run a tube with a biopsy port down the entire length of my esophagus and into my stomach. In speaking with my speech pathologist, she said, “It’s not really THAT bad.” I then asked her if she’d ever met a neurotic control freak before. She laughed and then confessed she’d never actually endured the procedure herself. At that point I informed her that she’s not allowed to have any more opinions on things she’s never sat through personally.

Prayers. Good vibrations. Positive juju. Whatever you’ve got, I could use some of it.

At this point in time, I’d be happier with a terrible diagnosis than with having to sit through a seemingly endless hallway of locked doors. I have good days and bad days. Some days I’m ready to quit my job and start checking things off my bucket list — hit all 50 states, visit all the MLB stadiums, go to Australia, skydive, eat at French Laundry, run naked on the beach somewhere in the South Pacific.

Sorry for that unfortunate visual.

Other days I’m afraid this is all nothing more than really bad heartburn, and if I would just give up Diet Coke and pizza I’d be just fine. That would make for an awkward conversation with the folks here at the ScreamFree Institute: “Sorry I quit with no notice to pursue a reckless course of erratic behavior because I thought I was terminally ill. Turns out I just eat poorly. Can I have my job back?”

Some days I’m angry. Other days I’m tired. I get sad sometimes. I’m a little afraid. I probably shouldn’t admit that — being a theologian and all. But it’s true.

So…there you have it. That’s the update. Any questions?

Update: A Non-Event

September 3rd, 2014

So, for those of you who have been asking — and for those of you who have been wondering but have not asked — an update on my medical stuff. I went to the doctor yesterday with the understanding that I wouldn’t learn much of anything for a while yet. We were going to try to snake a tube up my nose and down my throat and into my esophagus again. And then I was going to wait the 48-72 hours it takes to find out what they found out. But — just the way it happened a month ago — the doctor took a look, made a game attempt and decided to give up. Too swollen.

He seems to think I’ve got a vicious cycle going on. My throat gets irritated. And then I have to speak (it’s what I do for a living after all). But when you speak while your throat is irritated, you speak improperly, and it irritates your throat further. So my throat is not getting any better because I’m using it improperly. And I’m using it improperly because it’s not getting any better. Vicious cycle defined.

Needless to say, this was disheartening.

Now I get to see a speech pathologist. She specializes in working with singers and public speakers. She’s going to talk to me about what I’m doing wrong or if I’m doing anything wrong. And she’s going to talk to me about possible long-term effects (or is it affects?) and how I may need to unlearn and relearn a new way of speaking. And singing — which has been one of the truly great joys of my life — may need to go away — if not completely forever — then possibly for a while.

The doctor is contacting my insurance company to get pre-approval for a procedure where I will be put all the way under while they snake the BIG tube (the one with the biopsy port built right in) up my nose, down the entire length of my esophagus, and into my stomach. While they’re there they’ll test for dysplasia and metaplasia and neoplasia and anaplasia and probably some other -plasias I can’t remember right now. They’ll look for bad bacteria, and they’ll even do some genetic testing to peer into the strange DNA of this adopted man who knows nothing about his medical history.

And then I’ll get to wait two whole weeks before they find anything out. Fantastic!

So…yeah…yesterday was pretty much a non-event. And now you know why I was reluctant to share much about this before. There is nothing quite so anti-climactic as getting to wait for an appointment where they’re going to run some tests but you won’t know the results of them immediately and the results will either say you’re dying, you’re kind of sick but not really dying, or you’re not really sick at all but you just eat things that are bad for you — and then getting to the appointment and discovering that they cannot run the tests today but will reschedule a time in the future when they’ll run those tests and a whole bunch of others and then you’ll get to wait longer.

At least now you get to wait this out with me.

Now about those non-cat-video-related distractions….

Let Me Explain

September 2nd, 2014

To all my friends who may (or may not) have noticed me acting a little more strangely than normal (which is saying something), I should explain.

For the past few months I’ve been experiencing a lot of discomfort in my throat. At first I thought it was just a common cold or perhaps strep, but it never went away. And it felt different. It was more painful than simply irritating — more of an ache than a burn. Some nights the pain would wake me up. It left me with terrible “cottonmouth”, and it kept getting progressively worse. One Sunday I was speaking at a church and thought I might actually have to stop mid-sermon. It was that bad.

So, I made an appointment with an ENT near my house, thinking it may be nodes or tonsillitis or something along those lines — perhaps even my own overactive imagination. The doctor was very kind and reassuring until she looked in there. Her voice barely betrayed her when she said, “I’m PRETTY sure it’s not cancer, but I’d like to go ahead and just rule that out.”

Yes. Yes, let’s do that.

So, we ran tubes up my nose and down my throat into my esophagus — not what I had in mind for that day. Samples were taken. Lab tests were performed. I waited the requisite 48-72 hours. And I got that terrible phone call, “The doctor would like you to come in to discuss the results of your tests.” I know the phone call went on for a few minutes after that, but — honestly — it all turned to white noise then.

I went in the next day and got a long explanation of what all was connected and what was disconnected, which symptoms were most concerning, and which symptoms were probably nothing. I saw charts and diagrams and heard about medications that have lots of Xs and Ls and Zs in them. In the end, what I got was the most frustrating diagnosis imaginable: inconclusive. Something was definitely wrong. Something strange was occurring in the cellular structure, the cell walls near the top of my esophagus showed something irregular. But they just couldn’t get a consistent read on what precisely was going on.

So…more tests and more probing. And the introduction of meds — anti-inflammatory and anti-reflux. And the promise that on the next visit — once the meds have had a chance to work their magic — we’ll figure it out.

On my next visit, however, things had actually gotten worse. I was more swollen. So swollen, in fact, that they couldn’t get the endoscopy down where it needed to go, and I could see that everyone was a little alarmed at this. We tried everything, but that little probe with a camera on it wouldn’t go down far enough. They told me they were taking extra precautions because they know I make my living talking to people. They wanted to make absolutely sure.

So…more tests. More probing. Stronger meds.

As I said, it’s been a few months now, and I’m a little tired of living in this vague unknowing-ness. And I’ve held off from telling many people simply because I wanted to be able to tell you all something other than, “My throat hurts. The doctors don’t know what it is. It could be esophageal cancer, and, if so, I’ll probably die sometime in the next five years. But it’s probably not that. But it might be. They can’t tell.”

Those of you who know me well know that I am a terribly private person who struggles to know how to live in community. Social media provides me with the opportunity to do a little bit of that while maintaining firm boundaries — perhaps drawn too tightly at times. But I am posting this here and now because I am going back to the doctor this afternoon. More tests. More probing. More samples taken. More blood drawn. And then the awful 48-72 hour wait.

Some of you have been through this. For you it’s old hat. For me, I’ve never been hospitalized. I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve hardly ever been sick in my life. I am probably making a big deal out of nothing, but I may also be really sick. We. Just. Don’t. Know.

If you are a praying sort of person, I would appreciate that. Specifically, you might pray for me to stay the heck away from googling this stuff and scaring myself further. I am looking for ways to distract myself over the course of the next couple of days. No cat videos please.

Living on Patmos

January 27th, 2014

John writes the Book of Revelation from the Isle of Patmos. This was a small island about 40-50 miles off the coast in the Aegean Sea. It is now considered to be one of the most charming and idyllic of places to live, but this hasn’t always been the case. In John’s time, Patmos was considered a barren place because of its rocky terrain. The Roman government used it as a place to banish criminals, who were often forced to work the mines there.

John was not there on vacation. This was not his retirement home. He was separated from everyone he loved. He could not participate in the work to which he had given his life.

Think of John. He had devoted his entire life to following Jesus. He had been there when Jesus came walking on the water. He had watched Jesus feed thousands. He saw Jesus cry at the death of his friend Lazarus. He stood stunned as Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb! He had been there at the cross — the only one of Jesus’ friends who was there. It was to John that Jesus said, “Take care of my mother for me.”

John had been there on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon him and his compadres. He saw thousands of people baptized. He took that gospel message to folks near and far. He had done everything he knew to do, and where had it gotten him?

Exiled on a rock in the sea — sentenced to hard labor — cut off from the people and work he loved.

Patmos is the place of despair and disappointment. And every person I know who follows Jesus ends up spending some time on Patmos.

Maybe it will be a divorce. Or your health. Or a strained relationship with your children or your parents. Maybe it will be unemployment. Or depression. Or loneliness. Or anxiety.

There will be something — some way in which you begin to feel desperate and disappointed — cut off from everything you love. If you follow Jesus long enough, you’ll eventually end up in Patmos.

And what is it that you need in those seasons? What do you really need most when you find yourself exiled to a desolate place in the middle of the sea?

You don’t need more information. You don’t need platitudes. You don’t even need answers to the legion of questions swirling around in your brain.

No, you need what John needed — which, thankfully, is precisely what he received. You need a bigger picture of Jesus.

Reading Revelation

January 23rd, 2014

I am convinced that one of the reasons we avoid Revelation is the same reason we are so prone to misinformation regarding it. The plain truth is this: The Book of Revelation is not about us.

Don’t get me wrong; we’re in there. We’re just not front and center like we are with so many of the passages we love to study — the passages that come out of the second half of Paul’s epistles, for example. We like those passages. They’re pretty straightforward. It’s pretty easy to grasp the message of, say, Ephesians 5:15-16 or Philippians 4:6 or Colossians 3:13. Those verses are all about us and how we ought to behave.

The subject of Revelation is not us, and this confuses us. We don’t know how to read things that aren’t about us.

The subject of Revelation is Jesus, and you can look for a very long time in Revelation before you find a command addressed to us.

For that matter, you can read a lot of Jesus’ words and not find a command addressed to us. More often than not, Jesus was content to tell us what God is like, what humans are like, what the world is like, what the kingdom of heaven is like. Then he trusted that, if we trusted his words, we would adjust our lives accordingly.

I’ve talked on this blog before about the danger of anthropocentric hermeneutics — reading the Bible as if we’re the main subject — as opposed to theocentric hermeneutics — reading the Bible with the understanding that God is the main subject. But it bears repeating as it will determine to a large extent how much we get out of our time in Revelation.

Before we get to asking ourselves how to apply specific passages in specific ways, we must go through the exercise I spoke of yesterday. We must dig beneath the obvious to find a principle that can apply universally without being bound by time or language or culture. But before we even do that, it will be helpful for us to ask ourselves the question that all good Bible reading begins with:

What does this passage teach me about the character and nature of God?

After we’ve answered that question, we should probably follow up with this one:

How should I adjust my life to fit with that brand new understanding of reality?

Asking ourselves those two questions before we do anything else will greatly enhance our experience reading any text — especially Revelation.

Crossing the Bridge

January 22nd, 2014

Last week in my class on Revelation, I talked about a simple hermeneutical exercise that I find helpful in interpreting any biblical text. I got this picture from a textbook called Grasping God’s Word by Scott Duvall & Daniel Hayes. And when I say, “I got this picture from” I mean I used my phone to take a picture of the page:


I’m pretty sure I just violated some sort of copyright law, but I’ve given credit to the authors and cited the textbook. I’m hopeful my friends in the theological and publishing communities will cut me some slack!

Now, here’s how I used this illustration in my class. You see the little community on the left. It’s ancient. You can tell because there’s a guy wearing a dress. For some reason, that means “ancient”. Imagine that as the original readers of the Bible.

On the right you can see contemporary society. Even within that, there are differences between big cities (top right) and smaller places (center and lower right).

Our task is to take something that made perfect sense to people in the village on the left and figure out how to interpret and apply it to people who live on the right.

We understand that there is a river that separates us. That river includes time and differences in language and cultural mores. The river may be more narrow in some places (where the ancient culture is similar to ours) or wider in other places (where the ancient culture or language or situation or context is vastly different from ours).

The question is: How do we carry the message from one side of the river to the other?

The answer is in what is known as the “principlizing hermeneutic” — in other words, find a timeless and eternal principle, then figure out how to best apply that principle in your current context.

Let’s take an example from the Old Testament. God commanded the people of Israel to be a little sloppy in the way they harvested their crops. He told them to leave the corners of their fields untouched. This was done so that widows and orphans and strangers who had fallen on hard times could have a way of eating while also maintaining their dignity. Let those people “glean” the fields.

If you pretend there’s no difference between their culture and ours, you might find yourself at a loss as to how we should apply such a command. I don’t have any fields. Should I only mow the middle of my front yard and leave the corners alone?

No, there is a principle beneath that command: Be generous and thoughtful towards those who are in need.

Now, armed with that principle, we can cross the bridge between their culture and ours and figure out how that principle may be applied in a big city or a rural community in 2014.

This concept is going to really help us as we move through the Book of Revelation. I’ll refer back to this often.

Revelation: Why Bother?

January 21st, 2014

The Bible is such a big book, and there are so many wonderful sections we could devote ourselves to studying. I’ve spent seasons of my life immersed in studying the four Gospels. I’ve spent other times walking slowly through the Old Testament. There are biographies of great men and women like Joseph or David or Ruth or Esther or Daniel.

Why should we devote the next few months to a study of Revelation?

This is a good question, but I’ll begin by answering with the most obvious reason. It is in the Bible. God has given us the Bible to reveal his character, his nature, and his will for our lives. There are things about each of those that we only learn in Revelation. We’ll miss out on some things if we skip this book.

Plus, you’re going to meet John one day in heaven. He might even ask, “So, what did you think of my book?” How awkward would that be? Reading Revelation may spare you both some embarrassment and prepare you to have an intelligent conversation with the beloved Apostle!

Beyond those two reasons, I’ll give you one more. This one will only be obvious to those who have cracked the book open and at least started reading through it. There’s a blessing for those who read it. John writes,

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

This is the only book in the New Testament that carries a promised blessing like that.

Of course, there’s a little more to it than just being blessed with new information. That phrase “take to heart” implies actually doing something with the information you have — responding in obedience — behaving in accordance with what you’ve just learned. That’s where the real blessing is.

Now, don’t think I’m advocating a simple kind of legalism here. God is not just promising to bless obedient boys and girls. I think what he’s getting at is that those who know how to respond to their circumstances well will live truly blessed lives. And that would have been good news to the people who first read these words.

See, they didn’t feel blessed. They were being persecuted. They were being harassed. Some of them were facing terrible hardships because of their faith. John himself was in exile — writing from a prison on an island. When that kind of stuff starts happening, when you find yourself in trouble because of your beliefs, it’s easy to give up. It’s a strong temptation to quit.

But John tells them, “Don’t you stop. If you read this book and work on living in light of its message, you’ll be blessed.”

Maybe your circumstances will change. Maybe they won’t. But you’ll find out what it means to live in the power and presence of Almighty God. You’ll know the joy — when the literal, personal, visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ occurs — of hearing him say, “Well done.”