Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Monday, July 29, 2013

An update on me...and PCC, thanks for asking...

My title is admittedly tongue in cheek, but I really have enjoyed getting many expressions of care for me via texts, calls, emails, Facebook, cards and an incredible, non-ending stream of fantastic food, delivered to our door every night.  Food enough to feed an army, with all the variety of a long-established restaurant with a thick and varied menu.

No doubt about it, my friends and family and our incredible church family have all gone way above the call of duty to take good care of me.  My injury - painful and long recovery as it is, is pretty low-key, as medical situations go.  I can't imagine what would happen if I had had a heart attack or something life threatening.  You guys are just WAY too good to me.  And for all the good food, the best part of all is that you have gone out of your way to tell me one thing that really matters to me:  You care.

Thank you for caring for me and for praying for me.  I heard a story tonight about a little girl in our church.  She's 11 years old and prays with her family every night before she goes to bed.  They each pray - Mom, Dad, and this little girl.  Her dad told me that she insists on praying for me every single night, without fail.  I asked him to assure her that I was grateful.  I know of two other kids who insist every night on praying for me.  I know others are praying too, and I just can't tell you how that warms my heart.

The short update of my tale is that I'm currently approaching 14 days past the surgery date.  The nerve pain is completely gone.  There is occasional pain in my neck, but it's rare and it's minor when it happens.  The biggest problem now is this monstrosity of a collar that I have to wear 24/7 -  except when I'm in the shower, of course.  But it gets old, it's uncomfortable, and it makes me a little self-conscious wearing it.

In the scheme of things, what's the big deal?  I have a condition that will be totally cured and in another 4 weeks or so, my collar will be memorabilia or possibly target practice for Joshua's new pellet gun hobby.  So, I try to temper my griping.

AS FOR PCC, here's some info you may want to know.  Normally, every summer I am gone for 6 straight weeks (last year was unusual).  During these 6 weeks, I take 4 weeks for study break, where I can do some praying, studying and planning for our church from 10,0000 feet.   That is to say, I step back and get the big picture perspective and see what I don't normally see while in my normal work.  My condition and recovery came just as I was about to begin my break, and Angie and Sammy were already lined up to be the teaching pastors, plus one guest, for the six week period.

But this year, my two weeks of intense pain, surgery and recovery wreaked havoc with my plans.  I had to bail on my mission trip to Belize, ditch a week of vacation and spend most of my time reclined in a chair, with narcotics and Valium practically on an IV.  Not much studying has happened, though I have managed to get some work done.

But my time off - unexpectedly different as it was, is coming to an end, as my recovery is entering into era where my pain is reducing and my pent-up desire to DO SOMETHING is increasing.  This week, I am claiming back my study break, and intend to work 50-60 hours - all of it for the purpose of critical planning, learning, and hearing clearly the voice of God for where he wants PCC to focus.  I'll do this for the next two weeks.

Then, because of the generosity of a good friend, we will redeem our family vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We will return home in time to attend the MAJOR RIVERSIDE event on August 17 - hope you can be there!

I will return to my regular duties at PCC on Sunday, August 18, and will be the teaching pastor that day.

This coming week, August 4, Angie Frame will give you another dynamic and applicable message and on August 11, my good friend, Mike Abbamonte from Atlee Community Church will be our guest speaking pastor.  You'll enjoy and benefit from both of these great speakers and teachers.

Help keep our church strong this summer by coming to church, participating and serving where you can, and by giving regularly.  We ARE making a massive difference in peoples lives - stories I hear almost every day.  I'll share a few with you soon.

Thanks for continuing to pray for me!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Note: I'm really looking forward to being the teaching pastor at PCC this Sunday...And, YES, I WILL be there...kind of. The message is about one of my favorite heros from the Bible, someone who gives us an often missed, but incredibly important life example. You'll be glad you went, so I
Hope to see you there!
Well, my brace ain't pretty (see below), but it IS a sign of success. I'm in the car, headed home right now. Susan is in Target getting all of my prescriptions filled, and I thought I'd update everyone on how I'm doing, share a little about the experience, and tell you one surprise we discovered.
I had to be at the hospital 3 hours before surgery. I wasn't sure why, since I had already spent several hours on another day doing all of the pre-surgical work (tests, questions, paperwork and instructions). When I got to the hospital, they gave Susan one of those vibrating pagers with the lights on it like you'd get at a busy restaurant on a Friday night. It would alert her when the Doctor was ready to talk to her after the surgery was over.
They walked me back to my bed in a private room, where a nurse was ready to work on me. They asked a thousand questions, many of which were part of my prior interrogation, but I felt good knowing that they were thorough. I stepped into a bathroom to put on my gown. But there was something new there - packets of hot, disposable cloths and very detailed instructions on how to wipe down my entire body. It seems that hospitals these days are very protective of maintaining a bacteria-free environment...something else I'm grateful for.
About that time, my pain medicine was wearing off, so they expedited the IV and started me on the good stuff. Susan was invited back to the room with me where we waited and she shared with me the texts, calls, emails and FB messages sent on my behalf. It was - and still is - a great comfort to have so many folks praying for me.
Several nurses and hospital workers from PCC dropped by to see me. One of the nurses on my team said, "Who ARE you? Because it seems that I'm the only one around here who doesn't know you!" That was cool, and comforting, too.
The moment came, I kissed my girlfriend and told her I loved her, and they wheeled me down the hall - an entire medical team on each side. I don't remember anything after that. General anesthesia has a way of eliminating all sense of time. I blinked, and I was in recovery, groggy, with a sore throat, but with no nerve pain in my neck, shoulder or arm. None. At all.
And by the way, that team at St. Francis is incredible. I cannot imagine a hospital anywhere doing a better job of caring for their patients. I know that hospitals get a bad rap and not everyone has a good experience, but mine was unimaginably good. They have a way of taking a crisis and putting you at ease through it all. I'm so thankful for them.
The surprise came in the doctor's report to us. Something he found during the operation. He said that a piece of bone had broken off in the vertebrae and was 'free floating.' He said, "No steroid shot, no medicine, and no amount of therapy of any kind would have ever fixed this. You made the right call. Surgery was your only solution."
I just about cried hearing this news, because I really didn't want to have surgery, and I struggled a good bit with making the decision. Clearly, we made the right one.
So, I look a little funny with this monstrosity of a contraption around my neck. I look like I'm ready for a spacewaIk! have to wear it for 6 weeks in every situation, including sleeping. The only time I can remove it is to take a shower.
But in the scheme of things, it's totally worth it. Glad to be recovering and on the way home. Thank you for praying for me and for the notes of encouragement you've sent my way!


Wednesday Update #2


"Just wanted you all to know I'm ok. Getting ready to be discharged. nerve pain in my neck, shoulder & arm for 1st time in 6 weeks!"

Praise God and thanks for all of your prayers!

Wednesday Morning Update

Another update from Susan: Brian is awake this morning, feeling good and ready for breakfast!

Thanks again for your prayers and support. Keep those cards coming!

Brian Hughes
c/o PCC
P.O. Box 834
Powhatan, VA 23139

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Update On Brian's Surgery

This is Beth Stoddard, posting on Brian's behalf: Susan just let us know that the surgery is over and the doctor said everything went very well!

Brian and Susan are grateful for the prayers and the words of encouragement  He will be unable to return phone calls and texts, but will be glad to know that you are thinking about him. You can drop off cards at the church office (or mail them to P.O. Box 834, Powhatan, VA, 23139) and we'll make sure he gets them.
everyone has offered. Your support means the world to them! Brian faces a few weeks of important recovery time with restricted activity.

We look forward to seeing you at church on Sunday, and we'll keep you updated! Thanks for praying for our pastor!!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Perspective matters, for all of us

As I count the hours down towards my surgery on Tuesday, I'm reflecting on the past few weeks and this little detour that has derailed my summer and - after it's all said and done - will effect 6 to 9 months of my life.

There have been times when I've been in a lot of pain.  Last night, I finally just cried.  Not just because I hurt, because the severity of the pain isn't always terrible.  In fact, it's mostly tolerable.  I can grit my teeth and take the pain.  But when you can't ever escape the pain...when it never goes away, day after day, hour after hour, a constant unwelcome some point, you realize that you are just so tired of hurting.

The pain medicine works, but only if you take enough of it.  The doctors are always concerned about addiction, so they didn't give me enough medicine.  With my family being apparently genetically predisposed to gifted addicts, I have a hyper- awareness of the risks.  I grew up surrounded by addicts, and still interact intimately (inside and outside of my family) with the devastating consequences of being addicted to a drug.  I understand why doctors are stingy with this stuff.  I'm not upset or mad about it.  I'm just tired of hurting.

More that the pain, my entire plan for my annual study break, vacation, workout schedule and fitness plan - all of these are just shot.  Much of my work is affected.  Susan, my kids and our church all pay a price for my situation.  It's easy to feel guilty about something that was completely beyond my control.

In fact, it's not hard to get really down about the whole thing.  If I wanted to make a list of all the ways this just SUCKS (forgive me), I could write a series of blog posts focusing on all of the negatives!  In fact, even as I was finishing this blog post, I stopped so that I could attend PCC's online service, but I couldn't get the stream to work! It's easy to feel like nothing is working right!

But make no mistake about it... perspective is CRITICALLY important.  It is within MY capacity to determine MY mindset.  (The same is true for you!)  I can be negative and spend my energy focusing on all the ways I've been cheated, mistreated and deprived.  Woe is me!

OR, I can CHOOSE another perspective.  I'm determined that I'm NOT going to live in the darkness of my mind or my circumstances.  I can decide NOT to live there...not to allow my thoughts to focus or dwell on those negative things.  In the midst of his great struggle, Jeremiah the prophet wrote, "Yet, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.  Great is your faithfulness!"  (Lamentations 3:21-23).

And the Apostle Paul inspires me with the words he wrote while unjustly imprisoned and awaiting execution:  "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Phil 4:8).  

And the Psalmist wrote, "...I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done." (Ps 143:5).

So, as I reflect on my life and my trouble, I choose to see the good that God has done in my life, in spite of my current condition.  I am blessed with the support of a great family and good friends and a strong church and modern medicine.  I am blessed with a job and insurance and some savings that allow me to emerge on the other end of this without having financial disaster.  I'm blessed with the great probability of another summer - a better summer - next year.  And I stand in the memory of a magical summer last year.

God is good...ALL the time!  When I'm free of pain and when I'm hurting;  When I can see a solution to my condition and when I cannot; When I know what's coming and when I don't.  I will think about what is true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.  I will meditate on all the works that God has done in my life.  I will claim the truth: that I cannot be consumed by what is bad, because God's compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.  Great is God's faithfulness!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

5 Reasons to NOT pinch your nerve

This is the first time I've been basically bedridden.  According to my doctor, 70% of people who have a pinched nerve at C6 get better over time with rest and physical therapy.  He told me that I would very likely NOT be in the 70%, based on my MRI and the symptoms I was showing. My experience so far has proven him right, as I've basically done NOTHING physical for two weeks, and my condition has not improved at all.  In some ways, it's gotten worse.

At first, it's not bad being restricted to bedrest.  You get waited on and doted over.  People let you know they are praying for you.  If you try to do something, you get yelled at. "Stop washing the dishes!  I'll get that, you go back to bed!" And you get to watch all the movies and TV you want.

But after a few days it gets old.  Really old.  So, I tried to venture out a little.  Yesterday, Susan and I took Joshua (our 12 year old) to see a movie.  An hour into it, I was in so much pain that I was soaking wet with sweat.  It got worse by the minute.  It got so bad I started to get nauseous.  I needed to lay down.  So, I called Daniel (our 18 year old) and had him come pick me up and take me home while Susan and Joshua finished the movie.

I'm not depressed.  I know what that is.  I'm mentally healthy.  I'm just tired of laying down, doing nothing, staying home.  Surgery, which most people dread, couldn't come fast enough for me.  I'm counting down the days to July 16 like a kid counts down to Christmas.

So, just for fun, here are 5 reasons you don't want to have a severely pinched nerve in your neck:

1) There IS such a thing as too much TV!   I love watching TV and I love movies, but I have found and surpassed my limit!   I have now watched every single episode of Law and Order: SVU - and I think there are about 10,000 episodes.  I'm quite sure that I have descended into TV hell, having watched every movie in my considerable library, and the only thing on TV is White Chicks!  (Yes, I confess, I'm watching it!)

2) Staring at the ceiling for hours reminds you that you never finished painting.  I painted my bedroom a few years ago, including the ceiling.  Clearly I'm not a painter.  I can see that I never finished and the paint is thin here and there.  I would have never known.  Thank you, pinched nerve!

3) The highlight of your day is hearing your alarm go off so you can take your next dose of medicine.  Yep, pain meds every 4 hours, muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory.  And you don't want to forget, because if that pain medicine wears off, I can assure you that you'll regret it.  

4) They let you out of prison for 1 hour of daylight, but all you can see while you rock on the front porch is everything that is NOT getting done.  The weeds in the beds, the plants need water, the squash needs fertilizer, the driveway needs roundup, and there are at least 2 hives of ground bees that need killing.  Plus an endless list of maintenance on the house.  While you're watching more Mentalist reruns and a Tom Hanks movie marathon, the place if falling apart.  (not really, but that's how you feel.)

5) Leaving means you have to pack a bag and have a chauffeur.  On the outside chance that they give you a day-pass to leave, you feel like a 2 year old with a diaper bag, because we have to pack your medicine, a pillow, and some fruit to be sure we are prepared for anything while you're gone.  Oh yea, and you're not supposed to drive, since you're always high.  Having your 18 year old drive you around is...humbling.

So, trust me, don't pinch a nerve in your neck.  Of course, I don't really know how you avoid such an injury. But it would be worth the research.  Just wear a neckbrace.  For the rest of your life.

You can thank me later.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 least I'm not dying

When I went for my MRI yesterday, I begged them to find me a follow up appointment with the doctor this week.  The standing appointment was for NEXT week, but I was losing strength in my left arm by the minute.  The real issue, though, was (is) the pain.  It just hurts so badly all the time.  The only way to escape it is to take impressive doses of the prescribed narcotics.  And, in case you don't know, it's a little hard to be a great dad, husband, friend, pastor and leader when you are high!  I can't even think on all those drugs!

So, the nice nurse squeezed me in for an appointment today, which was shocking, given this particular doctor's renowned reputation.

Today we went.  It felt a little like going to hear the jury read their verdict.  All of the possibilities ran through my mind.

  • "We, the jury, find you GUILTY of a hideous breach of spinal anatomy and sentence you to 10 years of cruel and unusual pain.  May God have mercy on your soul and shoulder!" 
  • "We, the jury, find you GUILTY of 1 count of gross neglect and sentence you to 1 year of doctor visits, xrays and copayments."
  • "We, the jury, find you GUILTY of being an idiot, working out too hard, eating in an unhealthy manner and sentence you to inversion therapy for 12 hours every day."

But, alas, they jury was more merciful than I had envisioned.  Still, the crime was not without its consequence.

Staring at the images from my MRI, Dr. Kim pointed to each of the vertebrae in my neck, each with a spinal cord surrounded by a nice pocket of fluid, packaged in the bone.  They all looked the same, until he got to C6.  You didn't have to go to medical school to see that something was wrong with that one.  It didn't look like a nice circle or  slight oval.  It was more like an amoeba.  The left side protruded into and then through its assigned vertebra.   It was clearly in undeeded territory; an unwelcome guest outside its assigned borders.

Frankly, I was thankful.  I was slightly worried that the tests would come back normal, showing nothing that would cause the kind of pain I'm in.  That would leave only two options:  either I was crazy and it was in my head OR it was something far more serious.  At least now I knew that I wasn't insane and I wasn't dying.

"You have a severely pinched nerve," he said.  We discussed various treatment options and made the informed decision to have surgery.  I tried to make this happen next week, but the earliest he could do it is in two weeks.  

The downside is that there is a substantial recovery period with no driving and no workouts.  But the good news least I'm not dying.  And this CAN be fixed, which is a real blessing.

Until then, I'm on light duty...More about that later.

The cause of my condition is most likely a genetic predisposition, the doctor said.  That was also a relief...kind of.

Thanks for all the prayers, emails, cards, calls, and FB get well wishes.  I feel the blessing of lots of friends praying for me.

I'll write more later.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cervical Radiculopathy and 11 straight days of pain

I woke up on Friday morning, June 28 (11 days ago), to a sharp pain in my left shoulder.  It was a little after 4am.  When I say 'sharp' I mean excruciating.  It was like someone was taking a knife and prying off my arm.  When you are undergoing such torture, you can't really think rationally.  I jumped out of bed, flailing my arm all around  and contorting myself in every conceivable position in order to get relief.

But no relief came.

My jumping around and yelling woke Susan up and she asked good probing questions.  "What if you do this?   Have you tried that?  Does it hurt when you..." Honestly, I wasn't very patient.  Did I mention that the pain was excruciating?  It was obvious that something had gone terribly wrong, but I didn't know what.  All I knew was that it hurt - a lot - from my neck though my shoulder and into my arm.  We talked about going to the hospital, but then I discovered that if I lay flat on the floor with no pillow and stared at the ceiling and turned my head slightly to the left and held my arm just right and didn't breathe - in that PERFECT position, the pain would subside (though it never went away).

From there, the experimentation began.  I couldn't stand or sit in any position without unbearable pain.  To go to the bathroom or get a drink, I had to throw my left arm over my head and run, because I had about 90 seconds before it hurt so much I just collapsed.

The pain has been constant since that Friday morning.  In the past 11 days, I've seen 2 doctors, had several sessions with a physical therapist, gone in for some chiropractic manipulations, had 3 X-Rays and overdosed on ibuprofen...but I'm still in considerable pain.

The theory of what I have is consistent among the medical professionals I have seen:  I have Cervical Radiculopathy.  At least that's their best guess.   (We'll know for sure tomorrow.) Basically, I have a disc in my neck that is either bulging or herniated or in some other way damaged and it's pressing the nerve, sending the pain all over my left arm and shoulder.  I'm also losing strength in my left arm, which apparently isn't good.

Tomorrow, I get an MRI that should confirm the diagnosis and allow the doctors to present a course of action.   I won't be a very patient patient.  It's been a week and a half.  I want this fixed yesterday!

In the meantime, I'm either highly emotional because of the percocet and vicoden OR I'm highly agitated because of the pain.  In either case, I can't think clearly and I'm not worth much.  

The reason I've not blogged before now is because I can't sit up for more than just a very few minutes before my neck is killing me.

For all those who have prayed for me, thank you.  I'm grateful for everyone who would mention my name when you speak to the King.  Keep it up.

I'll be back to 100%, full speed ahead as soon as I can.  In the meantime, I'm just miserable.  Thanks for thinking of me.

And thanks for praying for me and for keeping PCC awesome and healthy!