August 31, 2016
Actually September 4th will be the five-month anniversary from when I found out that I have massive heart damage. Today as I sit down to write about my recovery the number one word that comes to my mind is “Thankful.” I am so thankful to be alive and for the family and friends that have surrounded me with everything I need in order to recover. Honestly, I now know how rich I am. I cannot imagine what people do if they do not have the safety net of family and friends to get through something like this.
My husband, kids and grandchildren have been absolutely amazing! They have surrounded me with love and support. My sister, her husband and kids and my cousins have shown that our family bonds run deeper than I could have imagined. I do not have enough words to express how much I love and appreciate them.
This weekend we had a family gathering in Portland. My Aunt Virginia (my mom’s sister) and Uncle Nick have seven children. They are all adults and have their own kids and grands. It has been a long time since I have been with this part of my family. We reminisced and laughed so much. The good, good memories of growing up in our highly dysfunctional families came to the surface and it was good for my soul! I lovingly call them My Big Fat Italian Family. We grew up close together. There is a bond with them that is much like a bond between siblings. Something so deep because we share not only the same DNA we also share so many memories, both good and bad. I like this quote by Marion Garretty: “A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.” I remembered this weekend how much I love all of them. We share so much in common and that commonality bonds us for life.
Again, I do not know how anyone gets through the most challenging of times without faith. I guess you really don’t. Whether you have faith in God or the Universe or not it is still a matter of faith. Faith in whatever it is that gets you through. For me faith is about the transforming love I find in Jesus and the people that are conduits of that love knowingly or not. I love VCC and the Vineyard and I am so grateful to be a part of this family.
I cannot leave out friends. Rich and I have some of the best friends on the planet. Friends have provided so much love and support. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends. Old friends and new ones we have met over the last year are treasures that we don’t ever want to take for granted.
So today I sit in a calm sea of gratefulness. It is like floating on an air mattress in the Mediterranean off the coast of Positano listening to Italians on holiday, smelling the sea air and basking in sunlight.
All I can say today is thank you for every prayer, every good thought, and every gift.
August 19, 2016
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines recovery as:
• the act or process of becoming healthy after an illness or injury : the act or process of recovering
• : the act or process of returning to a normal state after a period of difficulty
• : the return of something that has been lost, stolen, etc.
The first and third sentences above describe the process I am in. There will be no returning to a normal state after this past year but there will be a new normal. I have small glimpses of what the new normal will be but there will be no returning to the old normal.
I am very much in the process of becoming healthy from heart disease. I am very much in the process of seeing how what has been lost and stolen is returning in new and beautiful ways.
I have been letting grief and sorrow have their voice. It’s not pretty but necessary. If the loss of the last year does not get to express itself then I am doing my heart no favors in hope of a new normal.
I was sharing my deep sadness and anger with someone recently and they said to me, “You are right on track, I was waiting for you to get in touch with the anger and sadness but you could not until you were out of ‘survival’ mode.”
Today I am practicing gratefulness for my life just as it is. With all the questions to be held, mystery, sadness, anger and goodness and beauty I am grateful. I am grateful for an amazing family, the best of friends and for a church community that practices the way of Jesus.
They showed the broken rhythm of my heart
With inky ripples traced in peaks and troughs
The night when sudden life was torn apart
Left echoes like a dry persistant cough
This paper trail more signature of self
Than any scribbled scrawl of given names
More indication of my vital health
Than any poet’s talk of light or flames
My quick survival charted there as fact.
“And here, you see a murmured aftershock”
The remnant spider scribe of heart attack
My ailing pulse, my brittle ticking tock
Once took a moment’s beat to catch its breath
And left me reeling at the edge of death.
August 4, 2016
Four months ago today I was admitted into the hospital after tests showed my heart was extremely damaged. I am still very much in recovery mode yet I have improved in ways unexpected by my doctors. I absolutely believe that my heart is healing from receiving so much prayer, love and support. I am learning how to listen to my body and pace myself. I feel like my body aged twenty years overnight. There are many things I cannot do. For example, I don’t think it would be wise to go on roller coasters quite yet! I probably could get away with “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” or, “It’s a Small World.”
In many ways the past four months have been like riding a roller coaster. My cardiologist warned me over and over that depression is a very real thing during recovery from a heart condition. While I have not gone into a full on depression, I have definitely had my moments! My life changed in a moment. There was no leading up to it, no planning for it, it just happened. I thought I had bronchitis, I learned I had a serious heart condition and then everything changed. My friend, Bill Faris did a talk on Transitions. I have heard him give it a few times. His thoughts have come back to me many times in the past few months, “Change is something that happens to people, even if they don’t agree with it. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it’s what happens in people’s minds as they go through change. Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly.” Bridges’ Transition Model
Change happened to me quickly. Transition is very much where I find myself today. The first stage of transition is ending and letting go. There is a lot of letting go. Letting go is painful. It is like little deaths. Little deaths physically, emotionally, socially and in many other ways have come. Some have come rather abruptly and harsh while others came in the most gentle way. This letting go is teaching me. Teaching me to surrender, to live in mystery and know that there is not always an answer. Teaching me to name my fear, my anger and sadness. Teaching me that confusion and disorientation is not my new normal but a way through. Teaching me to name and grieve the loss. Teaching me to create a lot of space for the unknown. Teaching me that it is okay to color for hours, kiss my grandkids every moment I can and to say “Thank you” over and over throughout the day when I realize how loved and blessed I am.
I am in no hurry.
No place I’d rather be
July 5, 2016
We recently held our NW Vineyard Regional Conference. I went with the understanding I would have good boundaries and not press the limits with my health. I did fine! I rested every afternoon for several hours and it was just enough to reboot my body. The conference was all I had hoped for! The conference speakers, Eric and Julia Pickerill, Le Que Heidkamp and Lance Pittluck brought words of wisdom, encouragement and challenge for our region. Every worship set was incredibly beautiful! And Robin. He worked so hard and did an amazing job of bringing encouragement to so many. The venue, Grace Chapel Church blessed us with so much hospitality that we did not have any breakdowns in any area. I am so grateful for every volunteer. From all that served the kids to personal times with prayer and spiritual direction to the volunteers that gave us an amazing BBQ! I am so thankful that the Washington Area won the coveted traveling Area Trophy! Sorry Benson, we will take good care of our super hero!
I came home from the conference exhausted in every good sort of way. For now, this is the way life goes for me. I need to rest for days after an outing like a conference. I am learning how much I can do and how much I need down time. I am getting into a good rhythm.
When I met with my cardiologist after the conference he was completely and pleasantly surprised by my progress. He has said many times that even the smallest improvement in my ejection fraction would make a difference and he never believed I would improve. He told me many times, “I think your heart is as good as it is going to get.” When he saw that it had improved 5-10% he was shocked and full of smiles. Rich showed him pictures of me teaching at the conference – he smiled so big and then asked me how I prepare for something like that.
My doctor is very puzzled by my situation. He said that all the tests show that I probably never had a blocked artery. Blocked arteries are what usually cause heart attacks. He said that when Dr. Hall did the angiogram she saw one artery that was thin and fragile and that it had possibly had a block and self-healed. The more he observes what has happened and compared to tests of my heart eighteen months prior to this episode he has concluded that I might be very likely suffering from Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (broken-heart syndrome). Whatever is going on with my heart has proven to be somewhat of a mystery to the doctors. All I know is that my heart has improved and I have hope and faith that it will continue to improve over time.
For my poker friends, it is kind of like at the end of a hand when someone sees your cards and says, “You were drawing dead” and others say, “No she had a couple of outs” and even though you didn’t win the hand you are still in the game. That’s how I feel about my heart. I have a few outs, not the least being faith. I believe in healing. However you think about healing, be it having a positive attitude, fate, karma or in my case trust in a God who still heals today, I know I still have outs for my heart to improve and I believe that God spared my life.
I am so thankful to every single person who has and continues to pray, support, encourage and love us. Our family, friends and VCC have walked through one of the darkest valleys we have traveled thus far. This one did not take me down to the “felt” and I am so very grateful!
June 28, 2016
Today Rich and I went to see my cardiologist to get the results from my 2month post-op
echocardiogram. I like my doctor so much. He had big smiles as he read the results and heard how I have been doing. He was so happy! My heart was at 10-15% when he first met me. It moved to 20% after I was in the hospital and they took 6 pounds of fluids off my chest cavity. When I left the hospital and with every follow up appointment he would tell me my heart was as good as it was going to get. Today, the echo showed my heart at 25-30%. This is YUGE!!!!!! We asked him again if he thought this would happen and he shook his head and said, “NO.”
I absolutely, without a doubt believe that the prayers of the people have carried me through and my heart is healing. Thank you thank you! Thank you for all the prayers, good wishes, good thoughts, love and support.
Last week was the Northwest Vineyard Regional Conference. I had no idea how I would do attending the conference. I definitely had to have good boundaries and rest for several hours in between meetings. My body would reboot and I was okay. I received so much prayer and love with all my NW Vineyard tribe! I loved the conference. Eric, Julia, Lance, Le Que and Robin were the best. Everyone was amazing! The host church, Portland Vineyard, the NW Leadership Team, all of the Worship Leaders and team, the amazing kid’s leads and volunteers, all the volunteers, Darlene and Nicki! Thank you to everyone at the conference. Thank you Vineyard USA for all of your support, love and encouragement!
I thank God for all the goodness in my life. I am deeply loved and cared for. “I lack nothing.” Ps 23
June 10, 2016
Today is just over two months since I had surgery to insert the ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) unit in my chest. They tell me I have a “State of the Art” unit. It is actually quite large and is taking a little getting used to.
On Monday I went to have the two-month ICD check up. Technology is fascinating. They lay a device just over my clothes where the titanium box is bulging and the computer inside the box downloads all the activity that has happened in the box to a computer that measures if I have needed the pacemaker or defibrillator. As the nurse was watching the download she says to me in a cheery tone, “You are pacing 99% of the time!” I asked her if that was good news to which she replied, “It is very good news, your pacemaker is keeping you alive.” She then went on to tell me that if I kept pacing 99% of the time that the battery life would last seven years! So even though my heart needs the pacemaker 99% of the time, the defibrillator has not needed to restart my heart – very good news!
I am feeling stronger every day. I don’t feel sick, I don’t look sick and the reality is I have limitations on my physical capacity. The doctors tell me it will take some time for my body to adjust to my heart’s capacity. Next week I have another echocardiogram to see if the retraction rate of my heart has improved since leaving the hospital. Any improvement is good!
Last night I officially resigned as Lead Pastor and Board Chair of VCC. It is so bittersweet. When change happens this quickly it takes time to get in touch with all that goes with the change. I am more than grateful that VCC can continue on under the leadership of Jessica Ketola. I have no doubt Jess is ready and it is her time. At the same time, this transition is happening so fast I have feelings of loss that have to be processed.
Loss, so much loss so quickly, so what do I do with all this loss? First, I thank God for all of the people that love, care and pray for me. So many people that I cannot even fathom. Prayers, encouragement and gifts from all over the world and from people I have never met. Prayers and love from family and friends. There has been and continues to be an outpouring of generosity and kindness that brings me to tears and humbles me to no end.
Secondly, I have an amazing support system. My family beginning with Rich, the kids, the grandkids, my sister, Fluf, nieces, nephews and cousins have loved me so well! VCC, Vineyard Church communities, pastors, colleagues and friends have literally made personal sacrifices on my behalf and for that I have no words to express the gratitude I have. A good friend taught me a meditation for my heart. She had me put my hand on my heart and think of what I am grateful for, she had me try to be in touch with holding that gratitude in my heart. That is the best way for me to express my thankfulness and it makes my heart happy! My therapist has literally saved my sanity, walking me through the last year and helping me see what is true and what is right and good. I could not be more thankful for him and the time he has taken with me. Lance Pittluck is my overseer in the Vineyard. He has been so supportive as he has brought needed pastoral care to me, VCC and the NW Region.
Last for today but not the end of it, my faith in God. The presence of Love from the Spirit of God is an experienced and living reality in my life. I am not afraid to die because I believe without any doubt that I would be in the fullness of Joy if I were to pass from this life to the next. Don’t get me wrong, I want to live and I am grateful I am still here! I am so grateful for all the ways Jesus has loved me, graced me, strengthened me and in the midst of so much surrender has sustained me. I love the Triune God with all my heart!
If you do pray, I have two requests. First, that the echocardiogram will show improvement and second, for the NW Regional Conference June 22-24 in the Portland area. Please pray for me for strength through the conference. I am so looking forward to being with everyone!
For every prayer said on my behalf, every text message of encouragement, every visit, every FB message and post, every phone call, every good thought and well wishes for me I say, thank you! There is an old song we used to sing and today as I write this post it comes to mind. “Every good and perfect gift comes from you, Father of Lights.”
P.S. I am still coloring like crazy!
June 3, 2016
Sometimes life happens and the way forward seems like driving through dense fog in the mountains. Years ago I was driving home from Kelowna BC with a van full of teens. It was late at night and as we drove through the mountains the fog was so dense I could literally only see a few feet in front of us. I had to turn on the brights and slow down to about 10 mph. In some ways my life these past few months has mirrored driving that van with passengers through the fog in the mountains.
On April 4th my life came to a sudden halt with the discovery that I had had a heart attack in February. I was misdiagnosed and thought I had bronchitis for two months. I learned that after a flight to San Diego and then to Thailand it was a miracle I am still alive. Since that day I have been in a recovery process that will continue for the next while.
After the fog cleared a bit, I was told by my doctors that the last year had taken a heavy toll on my heart and that they were disabling me permanently from pastoring the church. As Rich and I talked with my cardiologist, the doctor was adamant I not return to the lead pastor role. After hearing about what the role of regional leader and teaching at The Seattle School entails he said I could continue with those roles. My plan is to continue as long as my health and those that oversee those areas think it is a good idea.
Rich and I knew immediately who we would want to take the role of lead pastor of VCC, Jessica Ketola. Jess has worked closely with me the past four years. Jess has had a lifetime of ministry experience and to us, the Board and our congregation she is the obvious choice. Jess and Dave also believe that the invitation was from the Spirit and Jess accepted the role. Jess was unanimously approved by the Board and set in on Sunday night as the lead pastor of VCC. I am so grateful because Jess carries the dream of God for VCC deep in her soul. She has already led the church twice in our absence for extended periods of time. She is not a novice and she is ready to lead us forward.
Most churches take at least a year if not more to transition. This transition is happening overnight. Please pray for Jess and VCC that it will be as smooth as possible and the way forward will be full of new life. I can already see the signs of new life sprouting and I am very, very thankful for Jess, Dave and the amazing community that makes VCC the special place that it is.
For me, I am already sensing the stirring of what it means to have more time and focus on the region, my teaching and some writing. I still take this path one day at a time as I continue to recover. I feel stronger every day and still spend most of my time coloring, praying and now dreaming with faith and hope about what life is going to be like. A new chapter is starting and I want to savor every day being alive loving my family and friends. I am not in a hurry about anything and I feel miraculously graced to live without daily anxiety. I have to brag about my family. Rich works every day, comes home, makes me a heart healthy dinner, cleans the kitchen and then dreams with me while I color:-) He has been amazing! My kids have been so supportive – and my grandchildren that pray for their Nonnie and love to see my owie. I love them so very much!
Again, thank you to so many who have loved, supported and carried us through this time.
I love this poem by Mary Oliver – The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Today I am five weeks post surgery. The past weeks have been filled with visits from family and friends, cards in the mail almost daily, meals prepared for us, unexpected gifts, an abundance of prayer, well wishes and good thoughts sent to and for me and my family.
I am on a two-month medical leave of absence from VCC. The VCC Board of Directors along with Jess and Dave Ketola have graciously picked up the reins to everything VCC related and continue to move forward with VCC’s purpose for existing. Jess and the team carry the vision that we believe God has given us. They are unrelenting in continuing on in spite of all that has occurred. I could not be more grateful for them and for everyone’s love, support, and encouragement. I don’t even have adequate words. So, so many people have shown love and support through so many means.
The update on my health has not changed. I will be monitored closely for the next while. In a month or so I will have another test to see if I have stayed the same, improved or if my condition has worsened. As I am tested and monitored my medical team will advise what is needed. Right now the biggest need is for rest to give my body a chance to heal and adapt to my heart’s capacity. It is a slow process. If you are someone who prays and I come to mind would you continue prayers for healing, for my blood pressure to stabilize (I run very low) and for VCC that Jess and the team are graced with strength, provision and most of all direction and decision-making? Thank you!
I spend most of my time coloring. Some people binge watch TV, I binge color! My recovery is going well. I have been surrounded with help. I definitely have moments of worry, anxiety and wondering about the future. I cannot stay there. I have to take this one-day at a time for now. Coloring has become a practice for me to focus on something in the present moment. Meditation and prayer also have become super important practices for me to help stay focused on the present.
Rumi’s “The Guest House” speaks volumes to me these days.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Again, thank you so much for all of your prayers, good thoughts, encouragement and love.
Today Rich and I saw one of my cardiologists. We made a list of questions before going. It was good, honest and hard news all at the same time. He basically said that he doesn’t see my heart getting any better than it is right now. Once heart muscle is damaged there is no amount of meds that repair it. Unfortunately for me, my heart is damaged all the way around not just in a few places. The good news is that my body will eventually adapt to my heart’s capacity. He said the meds, the ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) and the pacemaker will all help to stabilize the heart failure I am currently still experiencing.
Now that I am recovering from surgery he would like me to begin taking short, regular walks to get my body adapting to my heart’s capacity. I asked about something I can’t remember what exactly and he looked at me and said, “You have a very high tolerance for pain, you didn’t even know you had a heart attack and with the shape your heart was in when I first saw you only tells me that you have a high tolerance for pain.”
Days like today are hard. Rich and I had anxiety even going. We are both still in a bit of shock that this is our reality. The doctor talked with me about attitude. His patients that face this challenge embracing the fact that life will have a new normal do much better than those who can’t accept it. For Rich and I this is a process. We are in that liminal space of not knowing all that even the near future holds.
My friend Julie Clark came to visit me yesterday. She has a blog and a few years ago she wrote a poem she thought might fit for me. It resonated deeply with me. You can read it at https://backfromtheborderlands.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/the-eye-of-the-needle/
Again, I cannot express how cared for, loved, supported and encouraged I feel carried by prayer, well wishes and all the kindness of family, friends and colleagues.
Today is three weeks since I found out that I had a heart attack in February. I had a heart attack February 18th. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. April 4, 2016 I was diagnosed with Left bundle branch block, Coronary artery disease and Acute on chronic congestive heart failure.
I see my cardiologist weekly to monitor progress. I had a defibrillator and a pacemaker inserted and I am on meds to help my heart beat. I am on two months medical leave from VCC although I will be attending our gatherings. I am not teaching Leadership I at the Seattle School this May. I have to take life one day at a time.
I am not going to lie. Slowing down to an almost complete stop is hard for me. What else is hard for me is wrapping my head around the fact that I should not be alive. I am not trying to figure it out, it’s more trying to embrace and sit with what now? What today? If ever the words of Jesus ring true for me it’s now. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I don’t feel sick, I feel fatigued most of the time. I am home every day. I am doing a few outings now and then and afterwards I need to rest. On days I do something, the next day I usually rest all day. I want to read, write, study but honestly, I cannot concentrate right now. I spend most of my time coloring. My main work is to get well, follow the doctor’s instructions and get well.
Yesterday, as I was praying the thought came to me, if every doctor I have seen has made it a point to tell me how lucky or what a miracle it is that I am alive, then I can absolutely have faith that a miracle can heal my heart. With soooooooo many people praying for me, sending me well wishes and good thoughts I hold on to the hope that my heart will heal.
I read this quote yesterday:
“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what to hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope.” Barbara Kingsolver
My hope is for my heart to be healed to the point I can return to normal activity.
Thank you again for all of your kindness in all its forms. I feel rich in relationships that love and care for me.