Category Archives: Updates

Recovery

Sometimes things do not always happen as planned.

At the beginning of last summer I knew I had been overextending myself for too long and needed a break, which I planned to take over that summer. My expectation was that I would be ready and back to 100% by the time the Fall semester started, but this expectation was not realized and I had to drop to part-time [6 hours]. I was a little discouraged, but I knew I had made the right decision and expected that I would be ready and back to 100% in time to begin the Spring semester. Well, I felt much better in the Spring compared to the Fall, not 100%, but vastly improved and continuing to improve. So I decided to take a full load [12 hours] with the expectation that I would be back to 100% within the first few weeks. However, this expectation was also not realized.

I realized a couple of weeks in that I had made a mistake in taking a full load, but by that point I was already financially committed, and since I didn’t have a spare $5,000 laying around my only option was to move forward and do the best I could running on the little I had left.

At about the midway point I had to preach my first sermon for class. As I was preparing before class that day I noticed that my body started to shake, and then I realized that I was chronically stressed [preaching is stressful, but not that stressful]. On the one hand this was good news because it meant that I finally knew what was going on, and that I could starting treating it. But on the other hand you’re not going to de-stress in the middle of graduate level semester, no matter what you do. I did however manage to sneak in a break of about a month which got me rested just enough to finish out the semester.

One thing I have come to appreciate over the course of my health struggles these past few years has been the union of body and soul in humanity; what happens to one affects the other. There were long stretches of time where I could not concentrate on what I was reading or praying, and thus it was hard for me to benefit from doing many spiritual exercises. So I eventually stopped doing them. This of course had negative consequences spiritually and led to a lot of anger and resentment towards God on my part. It can go the other way too where a spiritual disease affects the body, such as acedia or gluttony, but that wasn’t the case here.

One tendency I’ve noticed in myself, which I think holds true for American culture as well, is the tendency to think in extremism and false dichotomies. When this type of thinking is applied to the nature of humanity it leads to either putting so much emphasis on the soul that we live and think as if we don’t have a body, or to putting so much emphasis on the body that we live and think as if we don’t have a soul.

Many Christians I think tend towards the former [too much emphasis on the soul]. While we are right to pay attention to our soul and care and nourish it, we cannot do so to the extent that we forget we have a body as well that needs to be nourished and cared for. Knowing what we know about human biology we cannot automatically assume that everything has a spiritual cause, and that if we just pray more, or increase our devotion to God, or confess some sin that we are unrepentant of, that we will be able to overcome whatever is ailing us. Sometimes the dust of which our bodies are made just breaks down. My body broke down last year.

As my body has finally been able to recover in the month or so since the semester ended my spiritual life has improved as well, but not fully nor automatically. I have been surprised by the amount of work and discipline that has been required of me to recover spiritually. I didn’t use to have to discipline myself to do things like pray, or read Scripture because I looked forward to them and wanted to do them. In some ways I feel like I am back to square one spiritually and now must find some way to recover the love and zeal that I had before this whole ordeal.

I am not out of the woods yet either physically or spiritually, but I am better than I was a month or so ago, and I continue to get better. If everything goes as planned [hopefully] I should be in good shape physically and spiritually to tackle my last semester of seminary, and hopefully gain some hindsight on the events of the past 12 months.

 

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4 Years of Seminary: The Struggle is Real – Spiritual

Christ is the light of the world, whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but have the light of lifeBefore reading this please read the first part of this series here since it provides essential background information for properly understanding this post.

It’s hard to make generalities about something like depression, so I’ll just speak from own experience in this post. In my worst moments I feel like burning the world to the ground, and in my best moments I just feel apathetic towards everything because I feel powerless to do anything to change my situation.

In the beginning, before I knew what was going on [around summer 2014], it was mostly just anger. A whole lot of anger. Angry at God. Angry at others. Angry at the world. I think perhaps the only notable thing I have not been angry at is myself, but everything else there’s a good chance I have been angry at it at some point. I prayed a lot of angry prayers and wrote a lot of angry journal entries during this time. It’s hard to pray when you’re angry. It’s hard to really do any sort of spiritual exercise when you’re angry. I tried to and found it to be a completely pointless and fruitless activity, and so for a period of time I just stopped. No praying, no devotions, no nothing. I went to church on Sunday [and didn’t grasp anything that was going on], but that was it.

Well during this time I was driving home from work one day and I was angry. And on this particular day I happened to be angry at God and decided to voice my displeasure to Him. When I had finished my tirade I heard a response almost immediately: go see a doctor. So I did and eventually was diagnosed with hypogonadism. When I finally started treatment for it in the beginning of 2015 I felt better, had more energy, a lot less anger, and resumed praying and devotions. It helped me to see that all the anger and frustration I had previously were mainly a result of a hormone imbalance. I was completely buried in work at this point and this prevented me from really being able to reorder myself spiritually to the extent I would have liked, but I at least felt the desire to serve God return, which had been noticeably absent previously.

This second time around though there isn’t much anger present, it’s mostly just hopelessness and sadness. I tend to believe that this is the lot God has given me in life: to suffer in depression and sadness and never be able to do anything of worth or have anything good happen to me. I have to say that hopelessness and sadness have been far tougher for me to battle than anger was because they kill much of my love and desire for God.

They also make it hard for me to discern what’s real and what’s not. Are the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness real? Is this really the life God has given me to live, one that’s sad, miserable, and lonely? Is it really not going to get any better for me? Or are the few moments when I feel my desire and love for God return real? Am I really still willing to follow Christ and go wherever He calls me to serve Him? I don’t know. And when I think I have it figured out my thoughts and feelings change and I’m confused once again. 

I’m also tired and worn out from battling and struggling with this over the past 2 years. Most of the time I feel like my faith has been thoroughly gutted and all that remains is a bare frame, which itself sometimes gets a little shaky, though it never falls. But I suppose this very fact, that despite all this my faith has not fallen, is enough evidence that God is with me during this time and will see me through it.

I wish I could end this post with some great story about how God brought something good out of this season of my life, or a list [alliterated of course] of things I learned, or just something positive in general, but I can’t because I’m still in this season. In a few years perhaps I will no longer be in this situation and will be able to see the effects it has had, but not today.

Health Update
I’ve had 2 injections now of the increased dose and overall I don’t notice much difference. They said I won’t really notice anything until between the 3rd and 4th injections and I get the 3rd on 8/30, one day after my semester starts. I’m not very optimistic based on my experience thus far with injections, but who knows, maybe I will feel better.

 

 

4 Years of Seminary: The Struggle is Real – Health

Part 2 of this post is here.

Around this time 4 years ago I left my hometown of Sarasota, FL to move to Dallas to attend DTS. I haven’t spoken much here about what has transpired over these past 4 years, but I feel that now is a good and appropriate time to do so.

Picture of a hot dog on sandwich with a caption claiming that it is a struggle to eat a hot dog on sandwich bread

This is not a real struggle…

Health Struggles
My own health issues have been the biggest struggle for me in seminary so far. In January of ’15 I was diagnosed with hypogonadism [low testosterone], but the symptoms had been present for most of my life, and particularly in the year prior to the diagnosis, though I was unaware of it at the time. Basically what this causes for me is depression. Not in the narrow sense of an overwhelming sadness, but in the broader sense of including loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies/activities, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, sleep issues [for me waking up early, like 3-4am early], and being easily irritable [see here for depression symptoms, and here for subtle signs of depression]. The only things I felt that I could do well were eating, drinking, and breathing; even walking could be challenging depending on how far I was going.

But despite being diagnosed at the beginning of the spring ’15 semester it was a month or so into the semester until I was able to actually start treatment for this. My insurance had to approve it first, which took 2 weeks, but then I was allergic to the first one we tried, so we had to get a different one approved, which took another 2 weeks, but thankfully I wasn’t allergic to the second one [Androgel].

Well during this month long wait or so I got absolutely nothing done coursework wise, which put me quite behind. Once the treatment started working though I had more energy than I ever had before and was able to get most of it done without the need for extensions [except for Greek!].

During the summer though I didn’t feel rested, which I attributed to not sleeping well. So I bought some blackout curtains to block all the light that came into my room at night [which is considerable] and a new mattress. Well it worked for a while, but I soon fell back into the depression I was in earlier in the year and when the fall ’15 semester started I was pretty incapable of doing any sort of work. So I talked to my doctor and he increased the dosage I was on. I felt much better on this new dosage and was finally able to get work done. Unfortunately I was again about a month behind, but this time there was no way I would be able to catch up with the course load I had, which included two language courses. I had to ask every professor I had that semester for extensions on assignments, and thankfully they all granted them to me.

While I managed to get most of my work done before the fall ’15 semester ended I still needed a course extension for Greek and had to work continuously over the winter break to get all the work done before the spring ’16 semester started. And I did get it all done, but I was completely exhausted when the new semester started and I had several assignments due right at the start of that semester that I had to pull all-nighters to complete. I think I pulled about 3 in the first month of the semester.

I also had to switch insurance at the beginning of this year [previously was through my employer and my hours dropped below benefits eligibility] and my new insurance didn’t cover the treatment I was on, so I had to switch to injections [cypionate] in February. Overall the injections haven’t worked. I had my levels checked at the end of July and they were back to around where they were in January ’15.*

So I started the spring ’16 semester completely exhausted and had to further exhaust myself with all-nighters at the beginning and then had to change my testosterone therapy to something that didn’t work. So I once again had to ask my professors for extensions on assignments, and once again needed a course extension [though for eschatology this time!]. But once I handed in my last assignment [which was on June 31]  I slipped back into depression almost immediately the next day and have basically stayed there ever since.

So to briefly summarize all this, the only point in time over the last 2 years or so that I have not been depressed is when I’ve been so overwhelmed with work that I had to put all of my energy and effort into getting that done.

Conclusion
My dosage has been increased and I received the first injection of the new dosage on August 2nd. I felt noticeably better afterwards, but nowhere near how I felt when I was on the higher dosage of Androgel. I am hopeful that going forward my levels will be where they should be and I will not be falling behind in my courses anymore, but right now I am 100% not ready to start this next semester.

The experience of the past 2 years definitely had an impact on me spiritually, and I am planning on discussing that experience in the next post.

*What happened here was when I switched they checked my levels after about 3-4 injections and saw that they were higher than my baseline. I told them that I felt worse than I did previously, but they didn’t want to increase my dosage just yet at that point. The dosage was increased on August 1st.

 

Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition

Cave 4 at Qumram

Yesterday (Labor Day), I went with a group from here to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. Overall it was well worth the trip and the price of admission to see so many pieces of history. I’ll share a brief overview of the exhibition and then share some of my thoughts concerning what I saw.

The first exhibit contained artifacts from the Hasmonean Kingdom when Alexander the Great was out conquering. The second exhibit featured artifacts from around the time of King Herod in Jerusalem. Then we got to look at some ossuaries that were used to house the bones of the deceased. Exhibit four contained artifacts from Masada, where the Jews made a final stand against Rome (the temple had already been destroyed by this point). After this I believe we got the chance to look at some facisimilies of some fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

After all these exhibits we watched a short video explaining the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and then got to look at the actual some fragments from the scrolls themselves as well as some early fragments from the New Testament and some old Christian Bibles from the Reformation (Luther’s Bible, 1611 King James, Erasmus’ Bible, among others).

Impressions

  • Many of the plates and bowls were tiny compared to the size of modern plates and bowls. The ones in my kitchen look gigantic compared to the ones that I saw. I speculate this was the case for two reasons: 1) The food supply was not as stable back then as it is today, so conservation of food was essential. 2) Because conservation of food was so necessary they ate significantly less than we do today; they realized that they could survive on significantly less food than we eat today.
  • It was a bit surreal looking at some of the fragments. It was <surreal synonym> to think that this was a 2,000 year old piece of parchment or papyrus. And not only was it 2,000 years old, but it contained words that we already old when the fragment itself was written. There’s something to be said of words that survive for thousands of years, regardless of whether or not you agree with what they say, because there’s something timeless in them that has meant something to multiple generations. This is why I like reading books by old dead guys (and gals); there is a timeless meaning in them.
  • There were a few illuminated manuscripts on display. Ever since I discovered these existed a few years ago I’ve loved looking at them and wished that there was a modern version of these manuscripts. I loved how elegant they looked and how the pictures served to illustrate elements of the biblical story. So I was excited when I found that there was indeed such a Bible in existence today! You can read about the Saint Johns Bible here.

Overall I definitely have a new appreciation for the Bible. Just seeing how skilled some of the writing was on the fragments, and how well it corresponds to the Bible we have today speaks volumes as to how laboriously and painstakingly these manuscripts were copied. Some people even dedicated their lives to copying these manuscripts.

I’d encourage anyone that has the chance to go see the Dead Sea Scrolls if you ever have the chance, regardless of what you believe.

Site Update

For a while now I have been looking for a solution to consolidate my blog and my site so that they would both be in the same spot. With that goal in mind I have made the decision to migrate everything over to WordPress. This not only will consolidate everything into a single site, but is also much cheaper than paying for a hosted site. The old blog is still staying up, but I will not be making any more posts there nor am I planning on moving anything from that site over to this one.

The content of the posts is still going to be the same here as it was at the old blog, but I am actually going to make use of categories and tags in an effort to actually organize my posts and hopefully grow my readership. I plan to make an effort keep in mind that what I am writing here is a blog, not a magnum opus. By keeping this in mind it should allow me to hopefully post more, but I always have a tendency to think through my posts and anticipate and respond to arguments that others may levy against my views and incorporate rebuttals to those anticipated arguments. This tendency is one of the reasons why I haven’t posted as frequently as I would have liked to.

Also most of the blogs that I enjoy reading are WordPress blogs, so hopefully this will allow me to connect with other like-minded bloggers.

My apologies if this change causes you any inconviences.