I was not much at sports when I was a youth. At some point in the Army, though, that had changed. Basic Training at Ft. Jackson SC was so freaken awful in almost every way (I loved the weapons training, though), and it turned my flabby hippie muscles into rocks, and bulked me up from 150 to 165, which was stringy looking on my 6'2" frame. And I developed some coordination I hadn't before. I became a force to be reckoned with on the volleyball court. It felt good. After the Army, a small church league of basketball and softball was a great outlet for me; I learned how to choke up on the bat, and I could always punch one through the hole between first and second for a base hit. Later, I picked up racquetball, and I was hooked.
Then came kids, and jobs, and graduate school, and by age 40, and my days as a player were over.
In my late 40's, I took up Tae Kwon Do. It did a great job of getting me back into shape, and while I wasn't nuts about the exercise part (which was the most valuable) I loved learning the routines and sparring. Emergency surgery in 2001 sidelined me for a few months, but I came back. I earned my black belt, on my second attempt, in 2002.
And then I started to hurt. I simply could not do some of the stretching exercises. There was one in particular, called the 'cobra stretch,' that just caused me excruciating pain in my back and neck. Turns out I had a problem in my cervical spine, and I had to go in and have C5, 6, and 7 fused. That was the end of karate; after I recovered, I tried to make it back on the mat, but the months of recuperation had taken my edge off; and, like a lot of people who quit after earning their Black, I drifted off.
But my back pain didn't stop; it just changed. The neck pain was gone, but my lower back started killing me. I had suffered from back spasms since I was 14, but this was new; this was debilitating. I couldn't walk a hundred yards without hurting so bad I had to stop, and bend over until the pain eased.
Cut to the chase: in May 2005, after months of tests that scared the heck out of me because it looked like I had cardiac problems, I was diagnosed with a hereditary disease called ankylosing spondylitis, It turns out I have Neanderthal ancestors, and one little bit, Human Leukocyte Antigen B27, is responsible for causing all kinds of auto-immune problems. There's no cure; the only treatment is pain management with anti-inflammatories and narcotics. And I happen to be one of those people who can't tolerate anti-inflammatory meds, so they offered me an array of drugs, until they got the pain under control.
But narcotics have their own side effects. The worst one for me was sleep disturbances. By 2007, it was not uncommon for me to be unable to sleep for four night in a row. I even had a term for the person I became at that point: Zombie Man. I was forced to take medical retirement from the school counseling job I loved. I was 54 years old.
My wife of (then) 29 years couldn't stand being around me in that state, and left. Three years later, when our youngest son graduated from high school, she filed for divorce.
So there I sat: 57 years old. No career. No family. Taking enough morphine daily to kill a horse. I was being supervised by my sons, one 27, the other 18. They made sure I ate something, and put a blanket over me when I fell asleep in my chair, and administered the sleep medications to me when a Zombie Man episode came.
And my mother, and my daughter, and a lady at church, each one separately begged me to promise that I would not kill myself. They all knew I'm a firearm accumulator, and they were afraid that, having endured so much loss, and being in pain, I would decide to end it all.
It was a promise I found very easy to make, and very easy to keep. There was one thing my mother and daughter and the sweet lady at church were not considering.
My name is Jacob; and I am a spiritual son of the Biblical Jacob.
There are quite a few people in the Bible that are not the sort that I would want my kids to hang out with. Jacob is one of those. He made a ripoff bargain with his brother, taking his birthright in exchange for some bean soup. Then he deceived his father (with his mother's help) and stole his older brother's blessing. And when the time approached for his brother to exact revenge, he ran away.
And he came into some good fortunes, and some bad fortune. The good fortune is that he found the woman he wanted to marry; the bad fortune is that his father-in-law gave him a different woman as a bride. And, when he was ready to go home at last, his father-in-law wouldn't let him leave, so he had to run away again. And the place he was running to? Right back into the hands of his brother Esau, who he was sure was still going to kill him.
And then something happened.
God shows up in the middle of the night, and He and Jacob get into a fight. They wrestle all night long, until dawn is breaking. And Jacob, the trickster, the guy who was tricked into marrying the wrong woman, will not give up. He hangs on in the fight, until God finally dislocates his leg.
And he still doesn't quit. And when God says He has to leave, Jacob tells Him:
I will not let You go until You bless me.God then blesses Jacob, BUT: Jacob walks with a limp for the rest of his life. And with every painful, shuffling step he takes, he remembers that he held on to God, and that God blessed him for that.
Now, that bit right there is what my mother and daughter and the nice church lady weren't considering. My name is Jacob; and during those three years that I sat in my chair, I never once let go of God, and God never once let go of me. We didn't talk much; there wasn't a lot to say. I had been walking with God for a long time, and the lessons I had learned along the way were what allowed me to realize just Who it was holding me.
And just like Jacob, God blessed me. Three and half years after my wife left me, and half a year after the divorce was final, I met Vanessa. And eight months after that, after a long period of counseling and more wrestling with God, on both our parts, she became my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. I still have my biological children, and they get along great with Vanessa, and I inherited the seven children Vanessa had with her first husband, plus (at the time) four grandchildren, two of whom we are raising. And, in the five and a half years we've been married, I have gained two sons-in-law, two daughters-in-law, and six more grandchildren, with another due in February.
And I'm still crippled. I walk with difficulty, and I have to use a cane to get around. I am frequently in a great deal of pain. And it doesn't bother me. In fact, it's a comfort to me at times, because it always is a reminder that I have wrestled with God. And I never gave up, and neither did He.