Friday, September 14, 2012

Heart lessons

After taking the puppy to the vet and playing with the Spaniel (she's ridiculously happy not to have that monster mauling her at every turn), I sat in the sun and for some reason (God?) began thinking of my 'cardiac event' last fall. Heart attack, one might call it.  Though my arteries were pronounced 'beautiful when the angio-gram was completed, the hours spent in the emergency room were pretty pain-flooded.  Machines hooked up to me, nitro-glycerin stuck under my tongue, cardiologist checking me out, and Beve sitting beside me, keeping our kids, siblings and friends updated and praying about the ongoing situation.

What I got to thinking about this morning, though, was how calm I felt beneath the pain.  It was the second most activity I've ever experienced in a hospital setting (the first being when J had a nicked artery from surgery and had to have a second surgery right in the examining room because there was no room in the OR and he couldn't wait). About a dozen techs and nurses checked me out. And many times the nurses especially encouraged me to relax. The EKG came back with so many jagged lines on it even I could tell it was dead wrong (but without going into details, I have reasons to know what my EKG should look like so often in my adult life you'd think I'd been born with a heart condition...oh wait, I was!).  As a result of that 'wrong' EKG, three different cardiologists came in after the ER doc saw it.  They made the decision that, without passing go, I needed to go straight to surgery to have a catheter put in to see what was going on.  And the rapid pace at which the tech moved my bed through the hospital was something of a wild ride, and before I could catch my breath (though, come to think of it I wasn't breathing all that well anyway), a catheter had been threaded up my right wrist (I was aware enough to insist that they NOT use my left arm, somehow knowing that it would be a problem post-surgery to have my dominant hand hampered). And then I was out for the count. That fast. Crazy fast.

This morning, certain, distinct thoughts came to me about that day almost eleven months ago:
  1. I was always fully present in my body. As you can tell from my memories, I didn't lose a moment until strong anesthesia rendered me out before the count.  My typically good memory was working just fine, thank you very much. The fact that there was no out-of-body experience (if one believes such things, and why wouldn't one, God can do what He wills--though my guess is that most of the time the eye-witnesses don't have the opportunity of telling us about them!) probably implies that I was in no real 'danger' of going home that day.
  2. I felt completely calm.  Though the nurses continually encouraged me to relax, their words weren't really necessary. I didn't feel worried or anxious. Not one little bit. If you knew me well enough, you'd know that I struggle with such things. I do get besieged by worry, especially when a loved one is hurting--in any way. But that day, there was a supernatural calm inside that flooded as fully as the pain.
  3. And that's the other thing. Though there was peace, there was still pain. God didn't take away the pain when He gave me His sense that 'all was well and all would be well and all would be most well,' as Julian of Norwich put it. In fact, I might go so far as to say it was the worst pain I've ever experienced. We were propelled to go to the hospital by that pain--by the thought that it was perhaps a heart attack, and so serious that I might actually die. That's pretty exquisite pain, as a doctor once called such significant pain, and I believe it. I felt it.
But it's interesting that His Comfort, His peace, His 'I will be with you' doesn't mean the elimination of pain. In fact, rather than assuming that the words, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" imply that there won't be struggle and pain within that strength, we should look at Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego in the fire--and "a fourth who looks like a son of the gods.'  We know who that is, of course. There was Christ, right in the fire with them, untying their bonds, keeping them from being scorched, protecting them from harm. He gave them strength IN the fire to survive it...but He didn't blow it out. He could have, of course. With a single breath He could have simply turned that fire into ash. But He had other purposes--for these men, but more importantly as a witness FROM these men.

In the same way, He gave Paul peace about all the hardships in His life, even as those hardships compounded.  And, His purpose was exactly the two-edged sword that suffering brings: to make Paul get to the place of absolute dependence on HIS strength; and to show the world through human weakness (like Christ's human weakness) that He alone is God.  Perhaps it's counter-intuitive, but the Kingdom breaths this way.

Yes, this is my broken record. But perhaps it's the one sermon God's given me to preach, the singular lesson of my life. How to live for His glory, glorifying Him through my life, no matter what my physical circumstance.  "Yes, whether rich or poor,[sick or healthy], I have learned the secret of being content. I can do all things through HIM who strengthens me."

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