April 4, 2017
One year ago today I had an echocardiogram. My doctor had treated me for acute bronchitis for seven weeks but I was not getting better. My friend Sharon offered to go with me so we could get lunch after and catch up with one another. The thing is, the test revealed I was in congestive heart failure and seriously so. You can read that story at in several prior posts about my recovery process.
Today, as I reflect on this past year I am in awe of the healing process. I honestly didn’t think I would be alive to write today. I am so grateful! I have recovered beyond what my doctors ever thought was possible. I can only point to what I have experienced that I believe attributes to my recovery.
My husband. Rich kicked into absolute care mode. He was working full-time when I came home from the hospital. He would make sure I had what I needed (sometimes this meant a caregiver in his absence) and then he would come home, cook a heart healthy dinner and clean the kitchen! He made sure that I had a safe and stress-free space to recover. One of the gifts I have found due to my health crisis and recovery is how strong our marriage has become in the midst of hugely hard circumstances. I cannot express how much I love this man. He is a good, good man!
Our kids and extended family. Our adult children surrounded us with love and care. They were there for whatever we needed. To this day they FaceTime me almost daily. The best was bringing the grandchildren to see me often – this made my heart happy with each visit! My sister and cousins too brought so much care, love and support. My cousins are like siblings. We grew up together and shared in the same large and sometimes lunatic Italian family. They enveloped Rich and me and our kids with love, wisdom, comic relief, prayers and so much more.
Our friends near and far and our faith community, local and beyond. I put these two together even though many of my friends are not a part of our faith community. The amount of support we have had this past year from near and far encompasses practical things like meals, house cleaners, rides to the doctor and other places (I could not drive for six months), gifts, cards, jokes, good, good company through so many tears and so much confusion, prayer, prayer and more prayer, financial assistance in the midst of so much transition, I could go on and on. Our friends and church family are the true riches in my life. They like Rich and our kids stepped in and did all they could to help eliminate stress in my life and for some they did this at personal cost. Another gift I have received this past year – the gift of receiving (this has been tremendously hard for me) and experiencing firsthand the generosity of others. I could write an entire post on just what it means to be on the receiving end of so much. There is so much powerlessness, surrender and trust involved. I have never experienced such an outpouring of so much goodness, love and kindness in my life as I have in this past year. My heart could not help but to come back to life!
My Guides. Guides through this past year have come in many forms. My therapist has been a healing voice and presence over and over. He has listened to me cry, sob, rage, cuss, and has helped me make sense of things that really make no sense at all. And by making sense of it I mean practicing letting go of the things I am powerless over. A surrendering at the deepest level of surrender I have ever had to do. The gift of surrender has left me at peace because for me surrender means letting go and trusting in the God I love. Trusting that God really has me, cares for me, loves me. What I came face to face with is the fact that I know I am not afraid to die. I know that the God I love is just that, LOVE and to be embraced by that LOVE as I leave this life has given me peace and the ability to surrender. So many other guides too. My friend from Southern California that I met just two years ago at a Society of Vineyard Scholars gathering. He had prayed for me there and became a trusted guide over what unfolded these past two years. I could not be more grateful for the gift he has been in my life. Women that helped me process the trauma, books, poetry and art that spoke to me and gave me hope—so many guides, so many gifts!
Today as I reflect on this past year with all the change, losses, gifts and love I have experienced I simply look up and say, “Thank You.”
“Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.” Crowder
February 18, 2017
One year ago today I was at The Seattle School for meetings. I was not well. I had not slept much all week because I had a dry hacking cough whenever I would lie down.
Our meetings ended for the day. Amy, Jess and I were walking up a hill to go to dinner when I stopped. I could not breathe. I didn’t feel pain in my chest I had shortness of breath and I could not continue walking. Jess went and got the car and we went to dinner. I got home went to bed and coughed all night.
The next day I stayed home thinking I needed to rest and get well. I went through the weekend without improvement. First thing on Monday I went to the doctor. He diagnosed me with chronic bronchitis and for the next seven weeks I went about my life thinking I had bronchitis when all the while I was in congestive heart failure. In the weeks ahead I made two trips, one to San Diego and one to Thailand. When I returned from Thailand I was so sick my doctor finally decided to run tests to see if perhaps my bronchitis had morphed into something else. I ended up having an echocardiogram on April 3rd with the test result showing I was in heart failure. My heart had somehow taken a severe beating was enlarged and was only at a ten percent ejection fraction! The cardiologist did not know how I survived air travel to Thailand and back. He said, “You are lucky to be alive.”
In prior posts I have shared what happened from that time through the past ten months of recovery.
Today as I think back on this past year I have many feelings. So many thoughts. I am not sure how I can articulate how thankful I am to be alive. I am thankful for my family, friends, our faith community both local and beyond, for my doctors and therapist and for all of the love, prayers, care and support.
I have recovered beyond what my doctors ever thought possible. In my faith tradition, we believe that God is real, alive and active in our world. I believe God hears our prayers. So much of what I sense, believe and know about God is pure mystery – in fact I believe that is what ‘faith’ is – it’s believing and trusting in what you cannot see or prove. It is a deeper knowing, a sense and an inner trust in something bigger and greater than what we see. For me, it is a deep sense and a glimpse of something I cannot quite reach. It is a whisper that tells me this is not all there is, that one day all will be made well. Faith then fills up and pours over into hope, hope that whether I live or die I will be okay. Hope that no matter what my circumstances or how scary the world appears there will be a time when things will be made right.
So today, I am spending time sitting with thankfulness. Holding every kindness that has been given to me over this past year. Taking into my heart every prayer, every kind word, every gift and intention for goodness from countless people around the world.
This Psalm says it best for me:
1 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“LORD, save me!”
5 The LORD is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
6 The LORD protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return to your rest, my soul,
for the LORD has been good to you.
8 For you, LORD, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
9 that I may walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.
10 I trusted in the LORD when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
11 in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”
12 What shall I return to the LORD
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
January 2, 2017
I am thrilled to welcome 2017! Saying goodbye to 2016 is okay by me. 2016 for all of the heartache (literally) and loss had so many gifts. Yet, I am happy to look forward. The end of the year marks a transition point for me. I am invited to look back to see what happened and to look ahead to what might be. 2016 is done. I cannot change what happened. The new-year is coming, it’s just two days old, so much of it not yet unfolded, a mystery. I think about reflecting on what has been, and for me looking back as a journey reflecting for a moment on the detours, the rest stops, filling stations, adventure, crossing bridges, getting stuck in dead ends, etc. When I reflect on the past year this way I know it will resurrect both joyful and painful memories which give me the opportunity to take not of the state of my being, body, mind and spirit and to remind myself this a time to discern God’s presence with me in all of it.
Janet Rupp in her book, “May I have this Dance” has great questions to ask at year-end:
As you traveled on your road this past year,
Meet someone who helped you find direction? Yes, I met so many that guided me through one of the most challenging years of my life.
Find an unusual treasure on the roadway? So many! I have blogged about many of them in prior posts. I have a gigantic list of the treasures I have found on the road this past year.
Encounter any dead-ends? Oh yes. And in some ways as the “way closed” (Parker Palmer) it was hard, sometimes made no sense but in the long run such gifts.
Fall into a ditch and work your way out? Hmm – almost dying (literally days away from drowning in my own fluids and crashing twice in the hospital) falls into this category. It is now 9-months post heart failure and I have improved (to my doctor’s immense surprise and delight) 100%!!! I did not work my way out on my own. I had tons of support from my family, friends near and far, my faith community, my therapist and my larger faith community known as The Vineyard. So much care, prayers, love and support is how I came out of it.
Get lost? Why yes I did. From the time I went to Thailand in March and came home almost having died, I was in a fog. Everything changed in a moment. My life as I knew it was over. I felt lost in so many ways.
Search for your way back home? I always felt at home. I feel at home in my own skin so though I felt lost in a fog – I did not at any time feel I was not at home. Home for me is with Rich, my kids, my family, friends and faith community. Home for me is being with Jesus every moment of the day. Even in the hospital when I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, I felt at home whether I lived or died. Death did not scare me. I knew in either state I would be home.
Cross over a bridge to new freedom? In so many ways! For me almost dying gave me so much freedom. It makes living all the more sacred to me. The freedom to let go, to live my life to the fullest from day to day is the greatest gift that came from this last year.
Spend time in a place of beauty and rest? My home is that place for me. Having my home to recover in has almost felt like I have been on retreat for the past 9 months. I could not be more grateful for the gift of a beautiful place to live and my family and friends that share my home. There were other places too. Trips with just Rich and I or with family and friends. So, so much goodness!
I thank God for:
Those who have helped me along way. From near and far, in thought and in deed.
The treasures I found on this past year’s journey
The dead ends when the way closed
When I fell down and was able to get back up mainly because of prayer, love and support
Moments when I felt lost, you were there for me, thank you
The grace to be at home wherever I am because you are there
Guiding me through crossing bridges to new freedoms, thank you
The places of rest and beauty, home being number one!
I am grateful to you, Father, Son and Spirit for all the ways you are with me and for the gifts you shower daily. Thank you for your mercy, for your goodness and unfailing love.
The Journey to Come
I am spending time this week naming my hopes for what’s to come. Some things I am thinking about:
What am I anticipating?
What are my hopes?
What practices will help me be open to what is being birthed in my life in this season?
How can I be open to gifts even if they come disguised in the most challenging ways?
I love this quote by Thoreau “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by and infinite expectation of the dawn.” To me the dawn is God in whatever terms you relate to God.
2016 brought many unexpected moments, challenges and gifts – I wait in hopeful anticipation the gifts 2017 will bring. It seems appropriate to end with this prayer from Walter Brueggemann
On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”
? Walter Brueggemann
September 30, 2016
It has been six months since I found out I was in very serious heart failure rather than having acute bronchitis. I am feeling pretty good. My body is adapting to my heart’s capacity. I have just started cardiac rehab that consists of exercising while attached to a heart monitor to see how much exercise I can do without putting stress on my heart. I am learning my limits. The past two weeks I did over schedule myself a bit and ended up feeling pretty rundown for a couple of days. My body actually felt sick. I am learning to pace myself. Even though I feel better I still have a lot of limitations because of my condition. I am easily out of breath and need a lot of down time so my body can reboot.
A very interesting thing has transpired. From the day I came home from the hospital I began coloring. I am not an artist but I found myself wanting to sit for hours and color. As coloring books came with almost every visitor (I am so grateful) I found myself binge coloring! I could not focus on reading, watching much TV but I color for hours and hours at a time. A few months ago the strangest thing began to happen. I would be coloring in the quiet, no one around and random memories began to present themselves. I would not be thinking about anything and a memory of being four-year-old in the backyard smelling the laundry hanging on the clothes line, or I am in the hospital after my oldest son was born, or I am on a trip. Random memories from all stages of my life started coming up. Mostly good memories were coming up. I was a little afraid that it was because I didn’t have much time left. I thought, “My life is passing before me” and it made me wonder if my body knew something. I recently told my therapist about it and he said, “No, your coloring is accessing both hemispheres of your brain and it is healing the trauma of the last year that landed you in heart failure and almost dying!” He said it is like doing EMDR work. It is amazing to me that we are wired to heal. Without even knowing my brain craved the very thing that could bring healing to the trauma. If I go a day without coloring, it is almost like an obsession. I need to color!
Living As Though You Don’t Have Much Time Left
Have you seen the commercial that goes something like this? An elderly man is looking out the window singing, “The sun will come out tomorrow.” Then the voice over says. “For people with Heart Failure tomorrow is not a given.” I actually don’t like the commercial because it reminds me that tomorrow is not a given for me. Because of that realization it has made me very mindful of how I want to spend my time and energy. I find it interesting that living as though I don’t have much time left has not made me anxious trying to fill each day as if it is the last. Just the opposite has happened for me. I want to savor memories, moments, and I have learned in this season that rest is a must. I am living in the present moment more than I ever have in my life. Early on when I came home from the hospital my friend Julie Clark prayed for me. She had a sense that I would find treasures in the day-to-day moments as I recovered. This has been absolutely my experience. One quiet morning while sitting on my deck drinking coffee all of a sudden my faithful little dog tore off barking at a squirrel in the trees. The next thing I see and hear is a crow landing in the tree, “Caw, caw, caw,” and Mr. B goes doubly crazy! Then the next-door neighbor’s cat has been calmly watching the animal circus in our backyard decides to jump in. She jumps from tree to tree, enjoying teasing my little dog. Mr. B runs from tree to tree – the squirrel, the crow and the cat exceedingly thrilled that they are tormenting this little white dog. I was so entertained! These are the moments I sit and marvel at the beauty of creation and I am grateful for the treasure it truly is.
I have also spent time reflecting on my life. This past week I have noticed so many little things. Things I have taken for granted and now realizing how rich my life is. Several weeks ago as summer was coming to a close, Rich and I sat on the deck and noticed dragonflies, butterflies and all matter of small flying creatures. We sat in the sun and gave thanks for where we live and how gracious God has been to us for the past twenty years! We will be married twenty years in December. We thought about how insanely blessed we are to have been able to travel to places we never imagined we would be able to see. I have been to Italy, France, and Thailand with Rich, Alex and Nicole. Rich and I have been to Italy three times! We stopped in Iceland on our way home last summer. I have been to Africa, India and England not to mention so many places in the US. As we rehearsed how all of these trips were amazing in such different ways we sat in quiet and tried to take in all the goodness we have experienced thus far in our journey together.
I have been thinking about a bucket list. I have a few things I would like to do and see and if none of them happen I can honestly say my life has been thoroughly a gift. Our kids, grandchildren, family, friends and last but not least our church are the things I treasure most.
I am going to end my six-month update with a Psalm that read every day. I pray it for my life and I pray it for my kids, grandchildren and for folks that I know who are experiencing infertility. It grounds me in what is true.
Psalm 139The Message (MSG)
A David Psalm
139 1-6 GOD, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!
7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
17-22 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers—out of here!—
all the men and women who belittle you, God,
infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, GOD,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!
23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.
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.
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 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 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.