Our Physiology Is A Cosmos


Our Physiology Is A Cosmos

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26

My thoughts have nothing to do with the metaphorical populated, variously gifted, church of Christ. Probably more than a bit askew. Went to the spinal cord rehab doc today and am thinking about the passage above more literally than I should. As we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we can be fearfully and horribly broken. And even then our physiology is a cosmos in its own right,Spinal Cord dangling as it were by a thread. A fragile bundle of myelin sheathed neurons and dendrites. Now damaged, once synergistic systems are smashed and struggle to find balance again. One compensating for the absence of another. Another firing instinctively but not connecting with its downstream receiver. Others quieted seemingly forever. Still others sabotaging the survivor with inconvenient, never timely “less honorable” functions.

Even in these messy, inconvenient moments, my thorn in the flesh gives me cause to remember that in my weaknesses, Christ’s power is perfected and His grace is sufficient. When borne patiently my embarrassment is His honor, and I am sanctified a bit further.

Three-Bagger Days — Hard But Not Bad


The one memory I have of my first Brawner Homes little league game — played away against Mitch & Bill’s Exxon, top of the second inning, score knotted 1-1, one out, runner on second — is of a pop fly hit to left field where I had been told to go stand. I had gone and was standing. Half crouched, at the ready, hands just above my knees, watching the batter, I waited for something to happen, but hoped nothing would happen. At least, not in my direction.

Moments of truth inevitably find us all, and mine had found me. There was the “crack” of bat on ball, and the roar of the proud Mitch & Bill’s parents leaping to their feet on shiny new aluminum first baseline home team bleachers. In an instant, I felt myself floating slow-mo through a strangely hollow muffled silence. The Mitch & Bill’s parents hadn’t stopped roaring, but alI I could hear were my heart’s ear-pounding lub-dubs. I’d thought I’d gone deaf. What little I could see was constricted as though I was looking pop-eyed through a cardboard paper towel tube at whose end was a spinning optical spiral, through which a moving black pea-sized circle rocketed. It arched upward to its apex, before plummeting downward to a spot I was trying really hard to reach.Pop Fly

Some how I caught the ball. In another instant, my hearing and vision were restored. Fumbling, I found the ball in my mitt, clutched and heaved it toward the shortstop as the runner at second tagged up, ready to head for third. He was held in place, and the Brawner Homes parents erupted, standing and roaring from their splintery old third baseline visitors‘ bleachers at this very lucky outcome. The plate umpire barked “Time!” Relaxing for a moment, every infielder, outfielder and base runner, in a unique, practiced, superstitious order each his own, dusted off his uniform pant legs and butt, adjusted certain other “protective gear,” straightened his cap, pounded his mitt, and spat or blew Double-Bubble bubbles, as the next batsman stepped defiantly to the plate.

My dad grew up in mid and late thirties’ St. Louis. He stood 6′-4″ and had size 14 feet. He played football for the University of Missouri — the “Mizzou” Tigers — later blocking and tackling on a WW2 Allied inter-regimental American football squad while stationed in Italy (perhaps a precursor to John Grisham’s very fun Playing for Pizza). But before going on to collegiate gridiron success, Dad was a pretty fair high school baseball player. In his day, bases were squishy 12X12 inch canvas bags filled with sand or straw, laid on the ground, sometimes tied to a stake, or spiked to the infield. Today, bases are immovable 15X15 inch solid chunks of composite rubber. Mitts were little more than leather work gloves with a bit of padding and a strap between thumb and index finger. Catchers’ mitts were better padded, but looked like round couch pillows. Bats were lathed from seasoned ash, wider at the neck and slimmer at the barrel than their 21st century descendants. Balls were softer and far less lively when struck. Hits were a challenge to come by, and home runs were far less frequent than in the modern era.

Have you ever wondered who history’s leading triple hitters are? Sam Crawford who started in 1889 with the Cincinnati Reds and hit 309 triples, Ty Cobb who started in 1905 with the Detroit Tigers and hit 295 triples, and Honus Wagner who started in 1897 with with the Louisville Cardinals and hit 252 triples.
I wanted to know this because my dad and I once played softball at a weekend Michigan Cub Scout Camp. Standing in the batter’s box on his size 14’s, Dad swung at the first pitch, and he sent the ball into the next county. Somewhat long in the tooth by then, Dad managed to stretch that homer to a triple. The young opposing left-fielder whose airspace had been pierced by Dad’s ringing shot, having taken a bus to get and return with the ball, nearly threw him out at third. When relating this story some years later, Dad took pride in having slid into third safely. I remembered it as more of a gymnast’s tumbling run gone very, very bad.Ty Cobb

Dad called singles “one-baggers,” doubles were “two-baggers,” and triples were “three-baggers.” As a little leaguer, I got my share of hits, notching only a few homers, but I cherished “three-baggers.” Being a runner at third base allowed me to mess with pitcher, catcher and third baseman by threatening to steal home, taunting and daring pitchers to pick me off, and dashing home to score when pick off attempts failed. Dad loved sports, in part because they’re lessons-loaded pictures of life. I did, too, and still do.

A year ago mid-January, I returned home after an extended away series of sorts. Fifteen days at the County General Hospital for two skin graft surgeries and a holiday bonus colostomy, followed by twenty five days at a nearby step down rehab facility, for wound-watching, lessons in colostomy management, and very light therapy. Well, the occasion of my first post-surgical anniversary was a “three-bagger” day of a different sort. I awoke, got dressed, got into my wheel chair, shaved, dragged a comb across my head, and had a light breakfast. My holiday bonus colostomy bag was empty, and I’d detected little activity signaling it would be full anytime soon. Arriving at church, I rolled to my spot at the rear of the sanctuary, back left row, center aisle.

Half a sermon in, my bag had become a bit fuller, and I was experiencing chills on the underside of my forearms, down my lower back and torso, and at the nape of my neck. Funny thing — given the level of my spinal cord injury, these sensations are among a few others that tell me when something’s happening or about to. Should I develop a serious condition anywhere below my chest, these would be the only indication — signals that my autonomic nervous system continues fearfully and wonderfully working around and in spite of its other parallel but disconnected physiological systems. In a short while, my bag was full and required changing. I rolled out of the sanctuary into a nearby empty Sunday school classroom. Bag one was removed and replaced with bag two. My lessons in colostomy management early on were enormously frustrating, due to my weak hands, and the dexterity required. More recently, I have learned a sort of ostomy digital jujitsu and often perform bag changes myself when the consistency of bag contents is not too loose or I’m not in a rush. But sometimes there is a need for speed and two helping hands, and so my wife, the lovely and heroic Alice, assisted me. Bag one was tidily wrapped inside several plastic bags and sealed tight. We spotted a large plastic trash can that happened to have a dying poinsettia conveniently sitting at the bottom. I stuck the bag under its camouflage rouge spread, and resumed my spot back left row, center aisle.

In fewer than five minutes, bag two was half full. Lovely heroic Alice and I consulted in the narthex, and I took up a secondary listening post by the side room lobby speaker, where I finished out the service. By this time, bag two was three-quarters full, but all the autonomic static had ceased. Following the service, I figured I could make it home without incident if we left after meet-n-greet and Sunday school. In fact, we arrived home without any complication. Bag two was now nearly full, and was changed. Its contents were beyond loose. Lovely heroic Alice was to the rescue, managing rough conditions. Picture something between an infant’s too full diaper and the Exxon Valdez . . . .Valdez

Good competitive sportsmanship is challenging, and like life, can be hard. As I play farther into life as a quadriplegic who sports a colostomy, I’m resigned to the fact I’ll have my share of “one-bagger days,” occasionally a “two-bagger day,” and once in a while a “three-bagger day.” Those “two- and three-bagger days,” will mess with me, taunt and dare me to deal with them in the midst of some significant moment at work, or while on the subway where emergency options and help can be hard to find, possibly even soil and spoil an otherwise impressive wheelchair wardrobe. But resignation will not lead to despair.

I’m often a dull student, but I’m learning to glory in tribulations that produce perseverance and hope, season my character, and produce steadfastness. I know of and have met many others whose circumstances are much harder than mine. Much graver. I wonder at their endurance and perseverance. I am ashamed when I lean toward despair. Increasingly, my hope is that in and through these things, and ultimately, I belong to Christ. I’m just a sojourner rolling through, and He has determined my paths. He has paid for and expunged, with His precious blood, my many offenses against His infinite, eternal, unchangeable being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth, and my sins against others. He has lived without offense in my place, for I could not, and His righteousness is credited to my account. And He fashions every moment of every day to bring about my good and His glory. One day I’ll be summoned by Him to heaven for eternity where there will be no more sorrows nor any suffering. I expect the baseball there will be pretty good, too.

For now though, I’ve seen that there may be hard days, but there are no bad days.

We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope doesn’t disappoint, because the love that God has poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Corinthians 4:8-12

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4



Props to the Ohio State Buckeye footballers. Many go unnoticed who carry a heavy burden, with meager prospects, finding little joy along the way. These dJacob Jarviso not often or easily mix with others who are easily idolized and live in glamorous high castles.


Jacob Jarvis’ (and his younger brother’s) story is a hard one, but it’s a good one.

Nice Costs Nuthin’


DrivingI was the recipient of two very kind gestures in late summer of 2009, as I began my in-patient rehab experience at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center as a C7 quadriplegic. Frank Smith III, a close friend from my college days, popped over from Charlottesville bearing gifts he’d received from then Cavaliers football coach, Al Groh.

As a former athlete and relatively obscure member of the Virginia Cavalier football team, I’ve learned, experienced and been known to say that athletics is a realm rich with lessons to be learned. Most are hard. Some are intellectually understood only, long before the professing lesson-understander really owns the force of the lesson. Some lessons are direct, like get right back up when you’re knocked down. Some are unwelcome, like fame is fleeting. And some are more oblique germinating only under the right (usually trying) conditions, like finding true and much needed comfort from the fraternal bond that is forged in the heat of the common struggle, or like practicing the gift of heart-felt encouragement that issues from that common struggle.

Frank was then, and remains, a friend of over three decades, with all the implied common struggles and experiences one might expect. It was he who first approached Coach Groh, requesting a team-signed poster in hopes of re-infusing his newly immobilized friend with pluck and vigor. He took time away from work and traveled the 8 hours from the Hook to Atlanta – bearing gifts, but also being present, reminding me I was not alone.

Coach Groh, midst a difficult season, took time to arrange for not just a team-signed poster, but many extras: a signed game ball, a personalized game jersey (with “HEIDEL” and “71” sewn on), and nine personalized Cavalier football t-shirts, one for my wife and each of my eight kids. This time, we were reminded we weren’t alone.

While it could be reasonably asserted the monetary value of a road trip and the trappings of game-time Cavalier man-cave loyalty were not overmuch, both their gestures were of great value. Both givers were veterans of shared, or of in-common sorts of, struggles. Both gave when giving wasn’t convenient or timely. Perhaps their significance was great to this recipient in direct relationship to the givers’ respective inconveniences. Recipients don’t always have the measure of what givers go through. But I knew. Besides, to hijack a phrase, “A gift’s value is in the eye of the recipient.”

Legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant is credited with having said “Nice costs nuthin’.” Jerry Ratcliffe, sports writer for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, wrote about “Bear” in 2009. I stumbled upon his article recently. Its link is cited below.


I hope you’ll read it, enjoy it, think back over your own lives, and soak-in its lessons.

Far More Weighty and Real


Having played on the 1977-80 Virginia Cavalier football team – well, practiced mostly – I was interestedly watching the Cavs (seldom televised anymore) play the Miami Hurricanes yesterday evening. As they hung on to a slim 6 point lead, early in the fourth quarter, they failed to score from inside the 5 yard line on third and simple. So, the necessary kicker and holder trundled out to attempt a consolation-prize field goal. The ball was snapped to the holder. The holder placed the ball uppy-downy between turf and fingertip, executing a laces-obviating quarter spin, and the kicker’s shoe impacted and propelled the ball through the uprights. Wait! A pair of penalties on a pair of over zealous Miami players — off-sides (declined) and roughing the kicker (accepted) — gave Virginia the ball again, and they scored three plays later, extending their lead to 23-7.

On the ensuing kick off, Herb Waters, a Junior wide receiver with Miami, sustained an injury that left him in a heap, motionless on the turf. My years-long honed enthusiasm for the Cavs and dislike for their opponents was suspended in an instant, I held my breath for what seemed like an NFL Films cinematic slow-mo replay. I watched with laser focus as a small army of team (both) trainers, and emergency medical technicians went to work. They double-timed it out to where Waters lay, bringing the imposing and dreaded back board with its myriad straps and cushioned but rigid triangular head blocks. Encircling the injured Hurricane, they immobilizingly positioned him for transport. “Move something! Move your foot, or a hand!,” I demanded. But nothing moved, and they whisked Waters off the field to the University hospital.

Both Virginia and Miami have soldiered on through disappointing seasons this fall. Each a mediocre team relative to season opening hopes and expectations, tilting in hopes of notching a sixth win and bowl eligibility. Sports is a universe full of lessons to be learned — lessons about sadness and disappointment to be suffered, jubilation to be celebrated, battles to be fought and struggles to be endured, the fleeting and changeable nature of success, the brevity of being on top and the bullseye worn by those who are there. At the end of the day though, sports are only sports — paling in importance to a few things that are far weightier and real.

The final score was 30-13, Virginia over Miami. I went to bed at game’s end, but restlessly replayed what I’d seen through a fitful night of light sleep. I awoke and later went to church prayerfully thinking of Waters. Home from service, and still distracted by not knowing what his condition was, I googled injured Miami player, and learned very happily his injury had not turned out to be severe, and that he had been cleared to travel home with his team.

Mr. Waters, though the outcome has kept a light wind in Cavalier bowl prospect sails, and Miami’s post season hopes are not overly promising, I and all who read this and understand celebrate your far more weighty and real win.

Ice Bucket Substitution


OK. This could be TMI for those of you who are not voluntarily practicing medicine or involuntarily practicing persons with disabilities. So, if faint of heart or of tender humor, press ESC now!

To my son, Chip: Whereas there’s no way I’ll top your creative approach . . .

. . . whereas I’ll not be hoisting a bucket of ice water anytime soon (but will set as a future occupational therapy goal); and whereas the conditions to be fulfilled include discomfort, a bit of embarrassment, excess moisture, and being too cold . . . .

Therefore, be it resolved that the possibility that a) I might have wet my Depends today while b) simultaneously experiencing autonomically disreflexive chills has met your challenge.