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.
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.
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.
June 7, 2012
Journeying through the wilderness is like an emotional CrossFit program. You are strengthened and conditioned in the most intense of situations. The only thing that sustained me was the love of people and the complete living into the mystery of “His grace being sufficient” it is in the wilderness I learned in the most visceral sense what St. Paul could have meant when he said “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
When you have no control over a situation that ends up bringing such heart wrenching sorrow you realize just how weak you really are. The power of God to bring strength and healing at such deep levels and the conditioning of the soul to be still, relinquish and hope for me only came by the Spirit of God.
I sense I am out of the wilderness now. The journey now continues and I find myself on the sea. The sea has many waters to navigate. My friend Jessica wrote a beautiful song that captures some of the waters I find myself navigating. Take a listen. Just as the Spirit of God carried me through the wilderness I now put up my sails and see how and where the Spirit will navigate this leg of the journey.
April 13, 2012
I love this quote by Wendell Berry, “The shoddy work of despair, the pointless work of pride, equally betray Creation. They are wastes of life.” So true, and I would say they betray New Creation. We’ve just celebrated Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, an embodied reality that God is with us and is inviting each one of us to participate in New Creation. Participating in new creation simply means in the midst of a still very broken world, I will choose to not cave to despair. When the circumstances of life seem to invite, no, invite is too kind of word…when the circumstances of poverty, sickness, selfishness, greed and any kind of evil invade my life I pray for mercy. Mercy that the new creation in Jesus will intervene and grace me to participate with peace, love, healing, justice and truth.
And the flip side of that coin, “the pointless work of pride” that wallows in self-contempt or grandiosity in order to prove myself I will beg for mercy and grace to walk in forgiveness, humility, strength and light.
As this present evil age wages war on all that is holy and good, I will practice longing for, looking at the evidence and stepping into the new world that Jesus brought. A world that is emerging in the midst of the brokenness. A world that is full of compassion, peace, and kindness. A world that bursts with the colors of faith, hope and love.
The shoddy work of despair and the pointless work of pride, betrayals and wastes of life – yes, I would say very much so.
March 15, 2012
Lent, the season of relinquishment. Relinquishment, letting go, surrender all verbs, something we do. Time in the wilderness definitely calls forth action but the action I find being called forth during this season in many ways is what Jesus might have meant when he said if we wanted to follow Him we would have to pick up our cross daily. Some of the relinquishment I am being invited to:
• Giving up any sense that I can control things that are absolutely out of my control, not even sure that makes sense.
• Letting go of expectations that at one time seemed legit.
• Surrendering to the paradox of surrendering my will to God’s will but even that is not in my own power but by God’s grace.
• Abandonment of all illusions that we don’t live in a war zone
• Surrender to a dependence on and a desperation for the Spirit of God
• Letting go of people in graciousness that I really don’t “have” to be present to
• Giving up on pretenses
• Releasing my pride to accept kindness and goodness in all the ways in which they come to me
• Letting go of willfulness and embracing willingness (Thank you Richard Rohr)
• Desisting from self-contempt
• Surrender to the powerlessness of meeting other’s expectations of me
My time in this wilderness is definitely a painful call to action…
February 28, 2012
As I continue to reflect on the Lenten journey today I found myself reflecting on Jesus’ forty days in the desert, the wilderness. The Judean wilderness was largely uninhabitable and full of dangers for anyone traveling through let alone staying for forty days. Dangers from the scorching sun by day and the extreme cold at night. Dangers from the wild animals and scorpions, the lack of food and scarcity of water. Today in my reflection on the journey through the wilderness this is what came up for me:
Dangerous animals – right now the most dangerous animal threatening to devour is “cancer.”
Scorpions – the poisonous sting from people’s unkind words, their projections, their unresolved pettiness and lack of relational integrity. One of the most vile scorpion bites – passive agressive behavior
Scorching sun – anxiety surrounding provision for those I care deeply about
Extreme cold – Biting fear, fear of the future, fear of harm to those I love, fear of rivers of sadness as you watch those you love in pain.
The wilderness journey for Israel, Moses, Elijah and Jesus end with renewal, faith, hope and vision. I will hold that posture…justice comes. As my friend David sings, “#LTKC!”
February 11, 2012
Our family is once again facing the demonic illness named cancer. This illness has wreaked havoc in the lives of the people I love most on this earth and once again it has come to call. Words from the doctors, “incurable, 6-10 weeks, chemotherapy, maybe 6-8 months” these are surreal words that should not be spoken over a thirty-five year old husband, father, son, brother, uncle. Our hearts are breaking yet finding strength in everyone’s prayers, thoughts, blessings, love and words of comfort and peace. Our grandson, Daniel is three. Whenever he is getting his picture taken he gives you the “peace sign.” I’m told that’s big in Korea (where he is from). Little does he know that’s exactly what is needed for him, for his mom, for his dad and for his extended family both here in the States and back home in Seoul.
This I know. God is not the inventor or author of the insidious disease named cancer. Cancer comes from the pit of hell where one day when its all said and done there will be no more sickness, no more dying and every tear will be wiped away. Until that time we know that when it comes time for our son to pass from this life to the next, death does not have the last word. In the end of all that is now temporal will be made right, cancer does not win.
Daniel you keep giving us the peace sign. As we watch your innocence in flashing us that sign we will breathe in peace and trust that one day, “All matter of things shall be well.”
January 31, 2012
For Christians that follow the liturgical calendar it is the season of Epiphany. However, today I find myself back in a season of waiting…
Waiting to hear decisions
Waiting to make decisions
Waiting, feeling powerless
Waiting, holding onto faith by a thread
Waiting, clinging to hope for dear life
Waiting, wondering what will be…