Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

When I started sketching out this blog post in my head, I thought I hadn’t blogged for two months.

Then I checked.

The last blog post I published was a book review on the 26th of January.

As far as I can work out, that was the first day I had a debilitating migraine. I’ve never had them before, and it was quite scary. That was the first step back. I ended up taking a month off work (which, for someone who loves their job, is really hard), doing all sorts of tests including an MRI, and spending significant amounts of time doing n.o.t.h.i.n.g. a.t. a.l.l. Or, rather, what felt like nothing. I was forced to slow down. Which I really struggled with, despite being quite a laid back person. What started as an oddity – ooh, new kind of headache – soon became a sobering normality. I’m now (End of April) on a phased return to work, a month or so into some new medication (propranolol, if anyone’s interested, which is preventative and you should ask for if you suffer from chronic/regular migraines), and gradually trying out doing things again. Like playing football, which I did last Monday and wiped me out.

Or running.

Or blogging.

The expression ‘two steps forward, one step back’ is so often intended to be a comfort. For me, having a week of migraines and then a few days off, the image was not comforting. It was a looming threat. That for a positive step forward, or two, there’d be a step back.

Obviously, life has it’s ups and downs. Amidst the pain of these migraines, and some really ‘fun’ mental health (depression and anxiety, if anyone’s interested, for which I take antidepressants and see a therapist) stuff, we discovered that my wife is pregnant. Our daughter learnt to walk and loves nursery. We sung and took communion with our small group, for the first time in over a year. Steps forward. But always the lingering threat of steps back.

Watching my daughter learning to walk whilst quite often being bed bound has been a fascinating experience. What looks like a small step, or a smooth surface, is a mystery to her. The joy she gets when pushing her trolley or little pram around is brilliant. The tenterhooks my wife and I hang on as she navigates steps are less brilliant.

My daughter tends to take multiple steps, carefully. She never takes a step back. In fact, the few times I’ve seen her trying to walk backwards, it’s ended badly. Or comedically. Or landing on her nappy-padded bottom.

Maybe ‘two steps forward, one step back’ isn’t the right way of seeing it. The threat of the backstep hangs over progress. Sometimes progress is just standing still. Or pulling off the motorway for a McDonalds.

I’ve been reminded of some of the words of John the Baptist, the forerunner and fore-teller of Jesus, from Luke 3:5:

Every ravine will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be brought low;
the crooked will become straight.
and the rough roads smooth

At one point, in trying to work out why I was getting these migraines, I went to a chiropractor, spending quite a bit of money to confirm what was becoming apparent: I’m quite tense, a bit stressed, and a bit worn out. One of the most memorable things he asked me to do was to close my eyes and walk in a straight line.

Reader, I could not walk in a straight line with my eyes closed.

My path was crooked.

Don’t even talk about two steps forward and one step back – I was incapable without my eyes of going anything or anywhere like what I thought I could.

And that’s the lesson I think I’m learning.

Three months on.

Still not 100% working, 100% running, or 100% living as I thought I could. But quite notably closer to Jesus, because sometimes I couldn’t do much more than pray, and occasionally read.

Luke 3:5, echoing a longer quotation from Isaiah, is a picture of the kingdom. Where every step will be made easier, because of what God has done. Elsewhere in Isaiah we read that “the way of the righteous is smooth, O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level”. From someone whose spent more time than normal not upright, I love that description of God as the upright one. But more than that, I love the glimpse of the future that with Jesus, the path will be made smooth, level, and easy. Not now, perhaps, but now is not yet how everything will be.

You can probably tell I haven’t blogged for a bit. But hopefully this articulates some of why.

  1. Terry

    I’m sorry to hear about this, Tom. I noticed you hadn’t blogged for a while and your name wasn’t popping up on Facebook, but I assumed you were just busy. I pray and trust your health will improve and/or become more manageable.

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