When the Plates Come Crashing Down

By Kristeen Bruun

I come from a long line of hardy stock who emigrated from Austria and Denmark to work in the north woods of Wisconsin. My mother, who died at age 88, mowed her own lawn, gardened, and was an active church and community volunteer well into her 80s.

When I belonged to a hiking club, some of my fellow hikers were in their 70s and 80s. One of my friends retired from waitressing at the age of 88. She is now in her 90s and it took a recent stroke to slow her down. Her Christmas card said, “I now have plenty of time to pray. Jesus walks with me.”

Furthermore, I have always had a highly effective immune system. Until a few years ago, I had never had a flu shot – or the flu. Every few years, I might catch a cold. While others would call in sick all around me at work, I would keep on showing up.

It’s not as if I made a choice – it’s just the way I was created.

I enjoyed keeping a multitude of plates spinning, until a couple of years ago when I developed this nagging back pain that wouldn’t go away. Powering through it didn’t help and neither did rest. I had to tell my boss that I could no longer substitute on the register for more than a couple of hours.

Fortunately, my main job is accounting which I do sitting down. Off and on, I came in with a cane, which I hated, but I decided it was less embarrassing than falling down. I stumbled along like Igor.

My primary care clinic got tired of listening to me whine, sent me for an MRI, and kicked me over to a pain management specialist. “What’s the prognosis?” I asked.  

But what I really meant was, “What are we going to do to get rid of this?” In spite of very limited experience, I had lots of faith in medical science, and I was so ready to be done with the limitations on my life.

It stunned me to hear the doctor’s response. “Well, this might stabilize for the next 20 years, or it might get worse. We really don’t understand why some people progress and others do not. If it gets a lot worse, we might want to try surgery, but you are in way too early a phase for that.”

I proceeded to bounce around through the classic Kubler-Ross cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, with a good long stopover at depression.

Don’t even bring up acceptance. It is not on the horizon yet.

My prayer life went something like this. “Hey, Jesus, what’s up with this? Wasn’t I doing good work for you? Didn’t you like the things I did? And how should I choose what to stop doing?”

My pastor assured me that I was loved for myself, not for my works. (Are we Lutherans or not?)

But I didn’t care about being loved.

I wanted the satisfaction of multiple jobs well done, which had, in the past, been mine.

I was told to expect this.

Many years ago, in grad school, a colleague was looking for subjects willing to take the MMPI, the Minnesota Multi-phasic Personality Inventory. We didn’t get paid, but we got a free analysis. The only surprise in my outcome was a warning. “You have an incredible reservoir of strength, and you rely on it to power you through your very busy life. If you ever have to face physical challenges as you age, you will find this very difficult.”

I just completed the January rush at work (I work for a college bookstore) and as the stress of rush swept over us, my plates began to hit the floor and shatter. I no longer have the ability to keep them spinning the way I used to.

“Is this part of your plan, Jesus?  Not a very good plan, I must say.”

Were you hoping for a solution here? A nice wrap-up? I have none.

The most positive thing I can say is that I continue to talk to Jesus.

Jesus continues to listen.

And I am grateful for that.

Featured photo by Eneida Nieves from Pexels


  1. Thanks for sharing your process, even before it’s wrapped up neatly. I can relate to your experience, especially the part where the good things I was able to do were taken away. It seems so pointless at times. I think it takes a lot of courage to share the story before it is resolved. In a way, it’s putting God on the line – “I expect this story to have a happy ending. And now everyone knows that it’s not happy yet. For the sake of your great name, if for no other reason, will you please come through?”
    The waiting is hard. I’m sorry for your struggle.

  2. Thanks. I hesitated about sharing something so amorphous and unresolved, but I felt like probably at most times we are “in the middle/in the muddle” in some way, so it might be helpful to read something not so neat.

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