Autobiographies of Ordinary People

I’m still thinking about “being GREAT” and the intense focus on the “great” men and women of history or of today. Like me, you may read their biographies and autobiographies looking for insight – What can I learn from his life? How did they get to be great? What are their habits? How can I be like them? That’s okay I guess, but it’s not that simple. Great people seem to develop from some combination of circumstances, character and abilities that doesn’t seem easily replicable by most of us.

I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be great by society’s measures. And it’s also the case that many great men have terrible flaws – obsessiveness, arrogance, cruelty, greed, and the like – which may even have helped propel them to fame and fortune. I don’t want to be like that. Greatness at any price is not worth the cost. No, my challenge is to be great at living an ordinary life. How can I be a great husband and dad, a great employee, a great friend? Whose biographies do I read? Whose lives do I study?

Even reading the Bible, I’m tempted to identify myself with Paul, Peter, David, Joseph or some other prominent person. But these guys are amazingly great men of God. All of us simply can’t be like them. Perhaps it would be more realistic for me to identify with someone in the “multitude,” or “crowd,” or among “…the three thousand that were added…” Unfortunately it seems that most anyone in the Bible that gets much ink isn’t very ordinary.

It got me thinking that maybe I should start reading biographies of ordinary people with extraordinary character. Do they exist? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m learning a lot about life from trusted friends. We meet weekly to encourage and guide each other through life’s up and downs as we follow Jesus. We share our stories along with our hopes, dreams and fears. Last week it struck me that I’m hearing their autobiographies – as told by the authors – and they’re hearing mine. And we’re helping one another plan the next installment. Sort of an “autobiography writer’s group” as it were. Cool!

Autobiographies of ordinary people – they do exist. And they’re powerful. Hear a few from people you trust and find some friends to help you write yours. You’ll be glad you did.

Pete

 

Back to the Books

Now I remember why I didn’t want to be an endocrinologist!

My internal medicine board certification is set to expire at the end of this year. It lasts for ten years at a time, which seems pretty long until the end gets in sight. Well, the end is now in sight. Bummer.

The internal medicine certifying exam is quite hard. A lot of the questions end with a twist. I’ll be reading the clinical vignette thinking – “I’ve got this! Yes it’s an unusual case but clearly the diagnosis is __________” only to find the question at the end is not “what is the diagnosis? but rather “the best treatment is __________” and five potential treatments (all of which are good for that condition) are listed. Which is best? Why? Back to the story for more clues. It can be pretty frustrating.

I don’t really need to be board certified anymore. My clinical practice days are over, and my most recent administrative jobs have been very high level. But it feels bad to let the certification go. So I’ve decided to hit the books and take the test.

I’m enjoying the studying. It reminds me of when I was a “real doctor” and medicine is indeed very interesting. But it’s also a bit intimidating. There’s so much to learn. A lot of new things in ten years, but even reviewing the basics is a massive and daunting undertaking. Did I really know all this once?

Honestly, I put my chances of passing at 50/50 with the amount of work I’m willing and able to accomplish in the next 4½ months. More will be revealed.

In any event, I’m trying to learn more than just the facts. What higher-level messages am I getting during this process? Here are a few that I already knew (and you probably do too) but are coming to me with renewed force:

Your physiology is very, very, very complicated and finely tuned. Everything interacts with everything else. It’s all connected. Your body really is extraordinary, a marvel, even a “miracle.” If you’ve never studied biology, it would be worth it to learn just enough to be convinced of this through your own study. It could change how you think about your health – or your life.

When something goes wrong, other things are apt to go wrong. This is a natural corollary of “it’s all connected.” I learned this from simple observation in resident clinic. Serious conditions occur together. If you have one, you’re likely to have a bunch. Not all of them are avoidable, but try not to get that first one. Take care of yourself.

Many serious illnesses don’t have an identifiable cause. Some are autoimmune conditions, but then what exactly causes auto immunity? Others are more obscure. Perhaps unidentified genetics or environmental issues are at fault. We just don’t know, and perhaps some cause will be identified sooner or later. For now, sometimes what you get is what you get and there just is no explanation. That’s a hard message.

Doctors have a tough job. There’s so much to know and a great deal of judgment is necessary to balance risks, benefits and competing priorities in managing any reasonable complex individual patient’s situation. Normal physiology is complicated. Pathophysiology is more so. Then you’ve got the various diagnostic tests – sensitivity, specificity, risks, indications, contraindications, etc. – and the treatment options come with a similar set of issues. Back when I was a doctor, this was everyday stuff, not something to moan about, but now that I’m out of practice I have a growing respect for those who are still in the trenches.

As my studies progress, I’ll try to revisit what I’m learning, but this seems like enough for now. My basic message – It’s no fun to be sick, and sickness often snowballs. Take care of your health as best you can. Even then, things might go wrong for no apparent reason. If they do, find a doctor you trust to walk with you on your journey.

And, although it’s not in any of my study materials, trust God.

Pete

_______________________________

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
Psalm 139:13-14 NLT

Getting a Radically Healthy Lifestyle – Bit by Bit

Salad, it’s what’s for dinner

A couple of weeks ago over lunch, a friend and I got to talking about our respective health. As a reader here, you know that I pay attention to my health and lifestyle. This guy does too. We’re both relatively lean and fit middle-aged men, and we both eat a “healthy diet.” So I was a little surprised to find out that his cholesterol has been “too high” for years and perhaps he was similarly surprised when I revealed that some of my fasting blood sugars have been “too high” off and on. How could that be when we’re doing everything right?

Well… Good question. All is not controllable of course. Metabolic disorders can and do occur, even in folks who are doing “everything right,” for genetic or other reasons. “Just bad luck I guess” summed up the next few minutes’ conversation as we consoled ourselves. But then we came around – “Honestly, are we doing everything right? Are there actions that could improve our health (and bring those lab results back into the ideal range)? What else can we do?”

We came up with the typical list of incremental solutions – lose a couple of pounds, exercise a bit more, reduce snack foods/desserts/simple carbs/etc. – before getting radical. Sure those are all good, but how about eating vegan? No meat, no dairy – that’s radical! Would it help? Almost certainly. Will we do it? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to make such a radical change.

Yet we both have been improving our habits over the years. We both already live lifestyles that represent radical departures from those of average Americans. I do eat a lot less meat and more vegetables than I used to. How did that happen? For me at least, a little at a time. Bit by bit. Learning, growing, adjusting. It’s been a slow process.

Our conversation brought to mind the book Eat to Live by Dr Joel Furman, which I have read several times. If you only want to read one book on healthy eating – this should be the one. It’s radical, too radical for most of us.  Frankly it’s been too radical for me, but eating the way he recommends does cure people. I’ve seen it. Reading it again last week reminded me that I have farther to go. There is more that I can do. There is more I will do. I probably won’t do it all at once, but I’m going to keep at it.

How about you? Not ready to make the big changes that you know are indicated? Fine. Take a small step. Then keep stepping.

Let me know how I can help,

Pete

Learning, Regretting, Repenting and New Year’s Resolutions

“Looking back, I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change a thing.”   That may not be exactly right, but it’s close enough to what the celebrity said during the interview on her life and career. I read it in the newspaper recently and it got me thinking because that’s definitely not my experience. Of course I don’t know her, but I do know what it is to be human. Perhaps she’s had the perfect life, but I think it’s more likely that she has a hard time admitting her faults, at least to the media. Or maybe she simply hasn’t learned anything.

I’m happy to be alive, learning and growing, but it’s not always easy. As I learn new things, pretty often I find myself regretting my past behavior. Learning how to be a better person in various roles (parent, spouse, friend, employee, leader) means recognizing that my prior actions were often self-serving, counterproductive, short-sighted or just plain inadequate. Ouch! That hurts. It’s painful to admit that I’m not and haven’t been that good, and it causes me to regret (that is, experience a feeling of sadness) about my past behavior.

Yet that’s normal, helpful even. Can there be any meaningful learning without regretting? I don’t think so. We absolutely should experience regret from time to time; the more new things we learn, the more past behavior we will have to regret. The question is what do we do with those feelings? How do we not get stuck in guilt, sadness and despair?

Sometimes the regrets are minor in nature and easily dismissed. True example, I am contemplating writing another book, and have just now learned how to make an automatically updating table of contents in Word. Wow, so easy! I feel stupid for not learning that before. Why didn’t I take the time to do so? How much time have I wasted changing subtitles and page numbers? Oh well, it’s negligible in the big picture, and not worth thinking about any further. I’m excited to know how to do it now.

But regrets are not always so simple to dismiss. What about the things we did that hurt people? What about the money or years we squandered? How about the health we took for granted or compromised through self-destructive behavior? As Christians we should be led from regret, a mere sadness over our past actions, to confession and repentance; confession being the open admission of our guilt – our poor or inadequate behavior has caused harm, and repentance being a desire and intent to change for the better added to the sorrow of regret.

Repentance and confession to God allows us to experience his forgiveness. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. God’s verdict is “Not Guilty,” and knowing that should help us work through our sadness and regret without minimizing our past. Repentance and confession to other people may or may not result in their forgiveness, but it does allow us to be open to correcting wrongs where we can, and it’s helpful as we try to make a positive change going ahead. The Bible encourages us to confess our sins to one another.

Yet, the process isn’t without pain, which can cause us to look for an easier path. “No regrets, just be different! Change without guilt! Just do it!” How often we just try to be different without grappling with our weaknesses and our pasts. But there are no short cuts. Denying your nature and avoiding guilt puts you on the wrong road; it’s as much as a problem as getting stuck in the guilt. Neither gets you to the destination you seek. The path goes through the sorrow not around it.

Perhaps now at the start of 2016, you’re contemplating one or more New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you want to be more healthy and well – physically, emotionally or spiritually. If so, don’t avoid the regret. Acknowledge the past, your guilt, and your weakness. Regret. Repent. Confess. Receive the verdict of “Not Guilty.” Then make your resolution.

Let me know if I can help.

Alive, Learning and Growing

I’m another year older today. Birthday-wise I’m almost in sync with the calendar year, just five or six days off, depending on how you think about it. So for me, and the calendar, another year’s over and a new one’s about to begin.

Like many people at this time of year, I find myself taking stock of my personal situation and asking questions like, Where am I in life? How’s my health? My wealth? Where am I professionally? How’s my marriage? How are the kids doing? What have I learned? Where am I going? Perhaps you are asking yourself similar questions. Although we all have ups and downs from year to year, it’s been mostly up for us lately. All in all, 2015 was a very good year for my family. God has richly blessed us, and I’m looking forward to 2016.

But beyond my life “situation” there is a deeper question, How am I?   Aside from my health, wealth, accomplishments, relationships and other external matters – How am I inside? Who am I inside? Even to me my own life is somewhat mysterious. Who can fully understand or explain themselves? I know I can’t. The best answer seems to be – I’m still alive, and I’m still learning and growing.

It feels good to be alive! And to be learning and growing. Ups and downs will happen no doubt, but Jesus has paid the price. He’s got my back, and in the big picture all is well. Resting in him frees me to be at peace and to enjoy the unfolding mystery of my own existence.  Of course I’m still learning that and growing in my ability to do so.  I hope you are too.

____________________________

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” – Jesus (John 14:27 NLT)

Knowing That I Don’t Know

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I’m coming to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and its role in our lives. Setting grace aside for a minute, what’s interesting me today is this phenomenon of “understanding” something, and then realizing, as my understanding shifts, that I didn’t really understand to begin with. What does that say about what I know now?

Perhaps you’ve experienced this too. Those of you who are a little bit older can reflect on your life experiences. Maybe yours is like mine. When I was 20, I though I knew everything. At age 40, I realized that I was an idiot back at 20. Now, I’m not too enamored of my wisdom back at 40 either. I’m still figuring things out.

The more I learn of man, God and life, the more of a mystery many things become. Who really understands quantum physics and subatomic particles anyway? And if our macro world, of things we can see and touch, is built on that mysterious foundation, how can we really understand the tangible? Can one understand multiplication without understanding addition? Frankly, it seems to me that physical reality is as much of a mystery as is spiritual reality.

The world may be a mystery, but it is real, and we have real choices to make and real actions to take. Naturally, we choose and act based on what we “know,” our current understanding of reality. Sometimes we’re going to get it wrong. Our understanding isn’t right, or even if directionally right; it’s not deep enough. That’s where I’ve been with grace. Likely, I’m still there, just at a deeper level.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience and it won’t be the last. Thus I’m trying to hold many of my beliefs, or understandings, about life lightly. I’m trying to be prepared for new learning or revelation, and to be able to change my opinions. And so I keep reading, studying, listening, talking and thinking about the issues of importance to me. Progress not perfection.

The good news is that I don’t have to be perfect. There is one who has perfect knowledge and perfect understanding, and I can rely on him in all things. He is “for” me! God is “pro Pete.” And if God is for me, who can be against me? He can be “pro (your name here)” too. Let’s enjoy the gift of his grace together. As always, let me know if I can help.

________________________________

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10

 

Surprise Blessings and Learning from My Knee Injury

DSCN8545I’m trying to take life easier since I hurt my knee and, gradually, the knee seems to be getting better as I do less and rest more. It still hurts a little, and does click and pop, but not with every step. Obviously I haven’t been running at all, and I’ve been trying to limit my walking. Otherwise, my Monday/Thursday resistance workouts (mainly upper body) are going fine, and the knees seem to be tolerating an easy 15 minutes of rowing on the other days. So far, so good. I see the orthopedic surgeon next Friday.

Rest is important, and last Saturday and Sunday I slept in, arising over an hour later than usual. I woke up early, but rather than getting up I rolled over and went back to sleep. When my wife commented on this rare occurrence happening twice in the same weekend, I replied that I must have just needed the rest. Then she said, “But you have always told me the reason that you get up early is that when you wake up, your back hurts, and you can’t get comfortable enough to go back to sleep,” and the light bulb came on in my head. Eureka! She’s right; my back isn’t hurting in the mornings lately! A week later, this is still holding – my chronic low back pain is much relieved since I have not been running.

I am surprised and pleased, but also trying to make sense of it. Some history is in order: Fifteen years ago I was sedentary, out of shape, 180 pounds, and had fairly significant “mechanical” lower back pain. Changing my lifestyle, I began to eat better, run and lift weights, eventually becoming fit and trim at about 160 pounds. My back pain got much better but didn’t completely resolve. Over the last several years it has worsened somewhat, and I’ve tolerated it as part of “getting older.” The pain typically bothers me after continuously sitting, standing, or lying in bed for too long, hence the weekend early rising. Now it’s only been a few weeks, and I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it appears that somewhere along the way, the running began to exacerbate my back pain.

Beyond my back, for the last several years I’ve also been bothered by pain at the base of my neck, which I’ve attributed to likely early degenerative arthritis. Typically this pain develops after prolonged reading with my neck flexed forward, and I do a lot of reading. However, I’ve noticed that sometimes I develop this same pain at the end of my runs, usually around mile four (of five) or so. Guess what? My resting neck pain also seems improved in the last two weeks. Very interesting.

It’s nice to feel better, but I feel a little embarrassed for not thinking about this possible connection before now. And I call myself “holistic!” Well, I am holistic, but no one can know everything and it’s hard to have an objective view of your own health. I’ve never liked going to doctors, but clearly being my own doctor isn’t the best option. We will see what the real doctor has to say on Friday.