Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Frank Word, Warning, and Plea for Fellow Clergy...I have become what they warned us about.

Typically when highly emotional things take place, I do think it is best to wait at least a day before (if at all) unleashing it for public consumption. I'm especially cognizant of that if it involves exposing myself and being vulnerable. Sometimes what seems admirable in the moment, doesn't seem so much the day after or the week after. Today, right now, I feel extremely vulnerable and yet, I feel like right now is precisely the time to write what I have to say consequences (pride) be damned. I think this is important for many of you to hear and I know like most of you, I'm very adept at making excuses for what I'm about to share. Tomorrow, I'm very liable to convince myself as well as you that I'm fine, that this is just a small bump in the road. I think this is important coming from me, because I think most of the time folks (including myself) have a tendency to see me as bulletproof and tireless, a perception I do very little to dissuade. I don't like to let people see me sweat, much less bleed. However, I would much rather you see me sweat or bleed, as opposed to say, sitting still.

I do not do what I'm about to do for your pity; I do it to warn you and who knows, maybe to save a life. I realized today that I have become everything that they warn us about and I have done so with a speed and efficiency that ought to get your attention.

As I sit here right now, I want to share a sober accounting with you as I find a rare moment of silence, forced as it is. My chest feels tight; not uncomfortably so, there is no pain per se, just an awareness. My jaws feel tight, tense; so much so that they throb. My head hurts, I feel slightly dizzy. My neck hurts; of course I have a bunch of metal and wires in there, but it hurts, feels weak. My lower back is killing me. When I get out of the car or I get off the couch, it takes five, six, twenty steps to stand upright and to walk in a manner not befitting an old man. My stomach hurts; it feels unsettled and I wonder if I'll have diarrhea or not go at all. My groin hurts, it burns and aches, from a not so great hernia repair that was repaired only when I literally could not stand it any longer. And even then, it only got fixed when I scheduled it months ahead of time for Thanksgiving break in seminary almost 3 years ago. I feel perpetually tired, but not sleepy. When I lay down to go to bed tonight, I will feel exhausted, but not sleepy. I'll take a melatonin and a few Advil to try to jump start the sleep process. I'll wake up tomorrow morning and wonder if I really slept at all. I have come to the conclusion that I am a physical wreck. However, I know when I get to my office tomorrow, I will no longer be aware of these things...and that ought to terrify me and you as well.

 Even in this condition, when I'm in motion, when I'm in my environment, I am a force of nature. The ministry situations I came to last year, were difficult and challenging at their absolute best; and I have thrived, I love it. I do not slow down, I do not rest, and as I realized last week in one of three moments of profound clarity and warning, I often forget to eat over the course of long days. I will tirelessly, with a smile on my face no less, doggedly chase after the profound ministry needs of my context; I love going into the darkness, I love taking Jesus where so few others would dare. I'll visit and hang out with junkies, I'll run to buy diapers for mothers in need, I'll stop and play football with the neighborhood kids, I'll do bulletins, I'll do power points, and I'll move heavy things around the church, up and down stairs as I try to squeeze another few feet of usable space out of our building. I'll study, write, and rehearse two entirely different sermons for Sunday for two entirely different services. I'll figure out how on earth we're going to provide not one, but two community meals in the course of the week, and then usually, help to prepare those meals. The only time that I don't is when I spring for pizza. 12-16 hour days, 6 days a week are my norm. And oh what pride I take in all of that :) (Do note that there is a terrible amount of "I" in that paragraph, despite my motivation being firmly rooted in the Kingdom. Yes, I know, I'm stomping on toes)

People tell me, "Take care of yourself Corey, don't forget to rest." My mental commentary? "Not me; that's for you. I'll rest when I'm dead." Yeah, funny thing about that. It wasn't until the last couple of weeks, when more and more people began to say, "Dude, you alright? You look bad," did I DARE to look in the mirror and only then, out of fear was I forced to listen to my body.

The picture above was taken as a joke (I detest man selfies lol) on July 1, 2013, less than a year ago. That was me shortly after I arrived in Louisville. I was a 6'1, 245 lbs mass of invincible freak show (lol). 20 inch biceps, a reasonable (albeit maybe a bit too ambitious) goal of bench pressing 500lbs by Spring 2015, I did my curl reps with the weight of grown men, and I shoulder pressed in excess of 250lbs. I had boundless energy, I felt good, I felt strong, my mind was clear, stress did not exist in my temple, I laughed loud, and I laughed often. I was on no medications whatsoever. The only stuff that I took were pretty basic, over the counter supplements for the gym.

This picture above? That was taken this evening. Yeah, I'm pretty embarrassed about that one and I struggled to include it here, but folks need to see what a difference less than a year can make. How quickly it can go south. How quickly we can become everything that "they" warn us about. Today, I'm still 6'1, 245 lbs, but I look very different. (For the record, my hair was probably about as gray in the pic last year, I just colored it back then lol) I feel very different; you read it above. I had blood drawn yesterday and I got the dreaded phone call this afternoon, "Mr. Nelson, please come back to the office, we'd like to discuss your lab results." My blood work is a mess and I now find myself on medications to try and right the ship. I'm also on blood pressure meds and cholesterol meds. Monday instead of going to Annual Conference to catch up with friends and to take part in the connectionalism that is one of the hallmarks of my denomination, I will be undergoing a stress test and an echocardiogram. I am and have become what they warn us about.

We hear so much about self care, that it becomes cliched. We hear so much about the cost of our insurance because we are fat, out of shape, overworked, and over stressed. I have become the cliche in less than a year. For my clergy brothers and sisters, look at my accounting above. How many of those things are you? How many of those things are you ignoring? How many of you are telling yourselves, "I'll get to it later."? How many of you aren't going to the doctor (like me) because you are scared to death of what the doctor will say? Here's the scary part. As rotten as I feel and look right now, as rotten as my physicians made me feel, I am still in better shape than many of my colleagues. Let that sink in. I was told yesterday that my blood pressure is now in the "stroke range" and I'm still in better shape than many of my colleagues.

Despite my current condition, I can still go a hundred miles an hour, all day long, but it is a race towards the grave. I love what I do. I cannot imagine a life without it, it is who I am. I like the challenges of where I am, I like that there is never a shortage of work, I like that it is just a little bit dangerous. But what good am I to the Kingdom if I am dead? South Louisville? My wife? My son? How on earth am I honoring Christ or anyone else when I refuse to care for myself? What we do brothers and sisters is an honor; an immense honor. We, broken as we are, faulty as we are, and damaged as we are, are allowed to represent God in this world, to be His ambassadors, the very hands and feet of our Lord. But what good is all of that, if the hands and feet grow cold, stiff, and cease to move?  We have hard "jobs", very challenging "jobs".  "Jobs" that demand us to be at our best; "jobs" that deserve us to be at our best.

The other two moments of profound clarity and warning that I mentioned earlier?  I took my wife shopping with me to find a cot for my office; the absurdity and embarrassment of it all hit me like a ton of bricks.  The other?  When I am still, when I am quiet, my body screams.  I think a part of me keeps moving to avoid it.

This summer I will have been married to my wife for half of my earthly life (21 of 42 years); that is a ratio I'm going to work real hard to extend to 4/5's. We're just getting started. This ministry is just getting started. I intend to do this until I'm called home as an old man, not as one of those tragic tales of a life burned out too quickly. I have become everything they warn us about all because I could no longer find time to take care of myself. Pastors, brothers and sisters, I implore you, take care of yourselves. Your families need you, your churches need you, and this world needs you.

I screwed this up in a years time, profoundly so.  I intend to fix it in a years time.  Consider joining me.


Adam Roe said...

A...MEN, Corey. I am praying for you, brother, and I know exactly what you mean. I'm no beacon of health and well-being either, and I feel it. Maybe we can start holding each other accountable on this???

Debbie Nottingham. said...

Of course I am not a clergy member but you are definitely over doing it. It is so hard to be a perfectionist and make our bodies slow down. Even when I take medicine at night to help me sleep, my mind still goes 100 miles per hour and I can't stop it. It will finally catch up with you. I think God was trying to get me to slow down and quit working such long days and enjoy my life. He got my attention really fast when I came up with a stress fracture in my hip and the only way to be comfortable was to lie in the bed, which I did for 2 weeks. I am no longer working 9 and 10 hour days. I am still tired but part of that is not taking care of myself. I can understand you when you don't eat because a lot of times I will find myself not having eaten anything all day long and maybe only drinking one 12 oz. Coke. They keep telling me the work will still be there and I know your job will never end. Please take care of yourself becaude no one else can do it for you. I will be praying for you.