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.
When my doctor ordered an echocardiogram I was not terribly bothered. I was wondering why I wasn’t getting better, in fact, my breathing was getting worse daily. I was hoping they would begin to rule things out and in doing so get to the bottom of what was going on with my health.
My friend Sharon offered to come along. I thought, great, she and I can go to lunch after and catch up. As we sat in the waiting room, I began to wonder what if they find something? The imaging tech called me in and explained that he was going to use ultra sound to look at my heart from all angles. I asked him how long before the cardiologist would read the results. He said they usually read them within 48 hours or if they are really busy within a week. Then he said, “Don’t worry, if I see anything concerning I will get a cardiologist in here right away.”
When the test was over, the tech told me to get dressed and wait for a minute. There was a knock on the door. A nurse was at the door with the tech. The nurse said, “Mrs. Swetman a cardiologist would like to speak with you, he will be in in just a minute.” The tech looked at me as if to say, “I am so sorry.”
The cardiologist came in and reported to me that the test showed my heart was enlarged and working way too hard. He said, “We are going to need to do something about this right away.” He asked me to wait an hour while he finished his rounds and then he would meet with me and go over the test results.
Sharon and I sat in the waiting room trying to remain positive. It was good they found something and would be able to take care of it. I called Rich and he was on a job over an hour away so couldn’t come to the appointment. I called my sister Karla and she came right away. The three of us, Sharon, Karla and I sat waiting, trying to think the best and remain positive.
When the three of us met with the cardiologist and he ended up making the statement, “I don’t think you ever had acute bronchitis, I think you had a heart attack that night in February,” needless to say we were all in shock.
He stepped out to make arrangements to admit me to the hospital. Immediately tears were streaming down my face. Sharon and Karla came and hugged me. I said, “I am only 49 and I had a heart attack?” Sharon, said, “I know, this is hard and you can cry, do what you need to do right now, but one thing, you are 59 not 49. Not that 59 is not bothersome for a heart attack, but you aren’t 49.” We all three laughed through tears. I have no idea why I thought I was 49…
I am so grateful for Sharon and Karla. They stayed with me all day as the whirlwind of being admitted to the hospital with all the doctors and nurses coming and going inserting needles, getting history and making decisions. Sharon took notes because crazy information was coming so fast! It’s all kind of a blur but I remember at some point that day having to let go. Surrendering to the doctors, surrendering to help from Sharon and Karla and others that arrived and mostly surrendering to God for whatever this was going to mean. Beginning then taking it one day at a time.
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“I don’t think you ever had bronchitis, I think you had a heart attack.” Everything the cardiologist said after that pretty much sounded like, “blah, blah, blah.” I was in shock. It was Monday, April 4th. I had a heart attack on Friday, February 19th. Later every doctor and nurse that talked with me always ended with, “You are very lucky to still be with us.”
On Thursday night February 18th I woke up in the night with coughing fits. Dry coughing fits that woke me several times. The next morning I went to a seminar I was attending at The Seattle School. I was not feeling well and getting worse as the day went on. At dinnertime, we were walking up a hill. I walked a half of block and was out of breath and couldn’t go on. I went to dinner and then home. That night as I went to bed, laying down I could hear myself wheezing so loud I sounded like a coffee pot percolating. I was coughing and at one point felt tightening in my chest. I felt the same tightening I had become accustomed to over the past year. I thought it was anxiety. I tend to carry anxiety in my chest. All I remember was it was a horrible night. I could not lay flat, I could not sleep and I was coughing all night. I stayed home on Friday thinking I must have the flu or something. I went to the doctor on Monday the 22nd. The doctor spent about five minutes with me and diagnosed me with acute bronchitis. He prescribed antibiotics and told me that acute bronchitis takes a long time to get over.
March 1st I had new insurance and had to see a different doctor. I went in to follow up because I was not getting better and I was leaving March 18th for ten days on a trip to Thailand. On March 4th I saw my new doctor. She worked off of the diagnosis of acute bronchitis, listened to my lungs, etc. and prescribed inhalers to help me breathe.
The day I was leaving for Thailand, March 18th, I called my doctor and told her my breathing was getting worse. I wondered if she could prescribe antibiotics for my trip in case it kept getting worse. She had me come in for a chest x-ray to make sure I didn’t have pneumonia. Her assistant called me late in the afternoon and told me I was clear of having pneumonia but the x-ray showed my heart was enlarged compared to a test I had seventeen months prior. She wanted me to follow up as soon as I got back from Thailand.
I went to Thailand hoping the sun and rest would help clear up the bronchitis. My breathing got worse every day. I would have shortness of breath just walking a few feet.
I got home on Easter Sunday evening – called my doctor on Monday went in for an exam and she ordered more tests. The labs came back and said something was going on which then led to the echocardiogram on Monday, April 4th and the result being I had a heart attack, I never had bronchitis. The cardiologist that read the report said my heart was at 15% capacity meaning when pumping the release was only 15% – normal is 55-60%.
I was admitted to the hospital and basically told, “a) You are lucky you survived the heart attack and, b) You are lucky you survived traveling to Thailand and back, you are lucky to be alive.”
They immediately gave me meds to drain the fluids that had built up (I was literally drowning) and within five hours I lost six pounds of fluid. The next morning, I had another echocardiogram and it showed my heart at 20%.
On Friday, the 8th I had surgery to insert a defibrillator and a pacemaker. I did not need bypass surgery as the original blockage had healed itself. The damage was around how my heart was pumping and the rhythms. The doctors have said that this is all they can do for me. That we will know in a few weeks, months if I am improving, staying the same or getting worse.
I have been home a couple of days and I think it is really just dawning on me how serious this is and how my life has been spared. I am praying, reflecting and thinking about those words I heard over and over again over the past week, “You are lucky to be alive.”
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.
May 31, 2012
We received a brief message from Ben on a Wednesday evening. It was a short message: “I have some bad news. I found a lump in my inner thigh a couple weeks ago and have been getting it checked out.” This started a season in our lives that in many ways correlated with the liturgical season of the church. All through Advent we found ourselves in a posture of “expectant waiting” waiting for test results, surgery results and prognosis all while Ben was in Korea. The waiting was unbearable at times, we couldn’t just hear for ourselves what the doctors were saying, we prayed and prayed for “good news.”
Christmas came. Rich, Alex and I found so much hope in the incarnation, the idea of “God with us” through the day in and day out hopes that Ben was getting better we felt the presence of God in our midst. God graced us with faith, hope and love to take each day at a time.
We journeyed through Epiphany. We had our eyes opened more and more to the reality of God’s presence in the midst of our daily lives. Every day we could sense God’s light in the midst of darkness. Psalm 139 speaks to this sort of light in the midst of darkness, the Psalmist so clearly describes it as:
“It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.”
Then came Lent – the wilderness – a time of relinquishing. The terrain of the wilderness is tough. Sustenance from the Spirit of God is all that got us through. Sustenance came through gift after gift of grace. Graced by people, words, circumstances, things we could not have imagined. The wilderness is a time where everything is stripped away. Anger rises quickly to the top and you realize what really matters. Words that have stung your soul like a scorpion sting…betrayals that you need not attend to any longer…relinquish all control over how people think and speak of you. So many lessons learned in this wilderness.
Ministering angels came in the form of two female therapists. They met with me often (at no charge) because they said they could see God was allowing me to carry a lot. They wanted to help carry some of the weight. They did exactly what you think ministering angels are sent to do. They listened, they listened, they listened more. They cared about me, my family (a very large family) our church and they offered words of wisdom about how to survive in the wilderness. They became a cup of cool water in the scorching heat. They helped me understand what was important and helped me work out forgiveness of others and myself. They fed me nourishing food for my body and for my soul. I will be forever grateful for their kindness and caring even now as we continue to meet.
Our church once again proved to us that it’s not the usual pointers of success (my friend Julia calls this “Big ass American) that matters. It’s the impact that matters, the depth of soul, the ability to put aside one’s own suffering and pain to bring help, kindness, goodness and self-sacrificing acts of service to those in such dire need. Our congregation ministered to us, our family as well as the church community in the midst of such suffering. This will be another post. There is just too much to say about how much our community means to us and how grateful we are to serve this church.
Our friends, our life-long friends that showed up in the most poignant moments of this journey. This is why life-long friends become just that. Because no matter what you’ve been through, the good times and bad times, they stay your friends. They are there because they really really love you.
Easter and Pentecost came. Ben was hopeful. He believed God would heal him. He believed in the resurrection power of Christ to heal him and commute his sentence. But for reasons that are a complete mystery to me, Ben passed from this life into the arms of Jesus on the feast of the Ascension. The day the church celebrates Jesus ascending into heaven, our beautiful Ben goes to be with Jesus and to be with all the others that have gone before him.
The outpouring of love and grace for our family is indescribable. We are very early on in being out of the wilderness of this particular journey but what I do know is that God’s grace has been present every step of the way. Though we have walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, He has been with us…he knows the way through.
One other group of people that I do not have adequate words to describe yet is our children. Angela, Roi, Seth, Laurie and Alex. They are God’s gift. We watched them love their brother, Hyemin and the children. We watched them sacrifice, hope, believe, pray, and fight for Ben. We could not be prouder of how they walked through one of the hardest times they may ever face. They did it with love, dignity and honor.
So many people around the world were and are praying, speaking words of faith and comfort. Too many to mention by name. I only hope that God will pour out his lovingkindness on every person who has been that lovingkindness to our family.
There is still a long road to travel in this part of our journey as a family. One thing I know is that I cannot travel it without taking the hand of the living God. This quote from Frederick Buechner says it well (my poker friends might appreciate this)
““Believing in him is not the same as believing things about him such as that he was born of a virgin and raised Lazarus from the dead. Instead, it is a matter of giving our hearts to him, of come hell or high water putting our money on him, the way a child believes in a mother or a father, the way a mother or a father believes in a child.”
April 25, 2012
I am on a plane heading to Minneapolis for the Society of Vineyard Scholars annual gathering. I am excited for the plenary sessions with Mary Kate Morse and Greg Boyd and several others.
You can check out the program here. I’m looking forward to being there with Amy, Rachael, Winn and Elizabeth and seeing David Ruis, Adey Wassink and others!
I do like inflight wifi:-)
March 31, 2012
Tomorrow we begin Holy Week. We follow Jesus beginning with his entry into Jerusalem. We read about the crowds in reverence throwing down palm branches, shouting hosannas. Then comes the cleansing of the Temple, the Passover, betrayal, arrest a contrived trial, betrayal, death by crucifixion and burial.
Back in Luke 9:51 it says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
I find it interesting that Luke frames Jesus’ death in Jesus’ ascension. The way to redemption, to new life is through the road of suffering and death. My friend David Ruis penned lyrics in a song that captured my heart years ago: “The way of suffering takes me to the least, down the road of suffering to the wedding feast.”
Turning our face toward suffering is counterintuitive, especially in America. We have every drug available and at our disposal to avoid pain and suffering:
Food – my current drug of choice
Over the counter drugs
We use processes, people and substances to alleviate our pain and suffering
The list above is by no means complete and most of the items on the list are not bad in and of themselves. It’s when we begin to use anything in excess or in order to avoid pain.
I find I am caught in a terrible bind these days. I use food to stop the immense feeling of powerlessness and pain I feel for the people I love. Watching my heroic stepson battle life-threatening cancer with all his strength. His wife, and the rest of our family praying and believing that God can intervene and commute this sentence. Every one of us along with friends here and around the world who are holding onto to hope beyond hope that a miracle will come any moment.
I wish I were strong and courageous enough to not use something to medicate this pain. But the truth is I’m not. So today, I will practice what my practice has been through this entire Lenten journey, surrender, relinquishment, letting go of my ability to stop pain, suffering and the road that leads eventually to the wedding feast. I will practice relinquishing self-contempt because I eased the pain with chocolate or pasta or whatever drug fills that aching place in my soul. Today I will pray for grace as I take the hand of Jesus and turn my face toward Jerusalem.
March 26, 2012
More thoughts on the wilderness journey. In the past two weeks the wilderness has felt more like an emotional white water rapids trip. The risks involved in white water rafting are caused by both environmental dangers and improper behaviors. Environmental dangers such as fallen trees, dams, rocks, and waterfalls. Improper behaviors such as inexperience and not using a guide, rafting while intoxicated and panic in dangerous situations.
There are so many environmental dangers both in the wilderness and in the white water. Finding safety as I continue this journey means training, trusting experienced guides and not panicking when thrown out of the raft. In fact when out of the raft, swimming to a calm spot behind a rock is protocol.
Last week I had a dream. In my dream I was in a large house with small children. I could see a storm, a whirlwind or tornado coming. I knew that I could not out run it. As it approached I realized the only safe place was to step into the eye of the storm, that there I would find calm and not be hurt. It was counterintuitive, I wanted to run with the children from the danger. I knew without a doubt if I stayed outside of the center the outer edges of the storm would destroy everything in its path, including me and the children. I was so afraid but as it approached I grabbed the kids and stepped into the center of the storm. It was instantly calm as the whirlwind carried us and then set us down. We were safe. Dream ends.
I have no control over the elemental dangers that come. The truth is, in this lenten season I have learned how little control I have over much at all.
In a Jan Richardson’s book, “Sacred Journeys” I read a meditation on anger and tenderness. Here is part of the reflection I sit with as the white water of anger rages in my soul:
“Anger is a woman who has learned
is not the way to peacefulness,
is not the way to strength.”
Swimming to the Rock, stepping into the Center of the storm, relinquishing control over and over, that what this Lenten journey is teaching me.