Monday, April 20, 2009


An Open Heart Journal
Living in the Valley of the Shadow of Death
April 20, 2009

“Anthony Kim made Masters history on Friday with a record 11 birdies in his second round and said that reading about the death of baseball player Nick Adenhart had changed his mindset.

The Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher was killed in a road accident in California on Thursday just hours after making his Major League Baseball season debut.

Kim, one year older at 23, said he had been upset after a disappointing opening 75 on Thursday but had put things into context after reading a newspaper report of Adenhart's death on Friday morning.

"The last line in the story was: 'You never know what can happen, even at 22. You have to live every moment of every day like it's your last.' “

In 2005, while living in a small town where television stations were as rare as snow shovels in Miami, I was “forced” to spend my weekends watching PGA golf while receiving my IV rounds of Amphotericin B or just resting from the affects of Histoplasmosis. Of course, my roommate called it “watching fresh paint dry” but I was finally beginning to understand the incredible science behind hitting a ball in such a way the golfer actually knew where it would land and where it would magically stop rolling. I found this ability very intriguing and my Saturdays that were once filled with walks, and enjoying gardening or yard work were taken by my sitting in the recliner watching men and women become my heroes of golfing prowess.

The morning I saw this opening headline I was immediately drawn to read about this record-breaking feat at the Masters which didn’t feature Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, or Vijay Singh. In fact, none of my favorites were even in the top ten right at this point. Instead this story was about a mostly unknown 23 year old golfer who “put things into perspective” after hearing about the death of a 22 year old baseball rookie.

Why was this article so important to me? Because it said what I’ve had to learn to do this week - to live each day to the best of my ability - like it’s my last - but to not be driven. There is delicate balance here and frankly I’m lousy at it.

When I first found out I had heart disease I thought I would make a comeback to rival all the other times in my life when I was told I would not survive. I went back to work just three weeks after my first bout with congestive heart failure and ended up back in the hospital and having open heart surgery. Then I returned home after the surgery only to discover I couldn’t make it across the room to the bathroom, couldn’t open the refrigerator by myself and couldn’t even make a peanut butter sandwich for myself. I was devastated and wondered if recovery really was even in my future. I know now I should have listened more to my roommate (a Cardiac RN) instead of my doctor when I made the decision to come home rather than go into a rehab facility.

Nearly two months later I was finally able to begin cardiac rehab and found myself back on the treadmill and exercise bike like “old times” but this time 5 minutes was a monumental goal. Then just one day after being released to drive again and return to work I was falling off the exercise bike after only three minutes and hearing nurses and EMTs shouting my name, shoving aspirin and nitroglycerin tablets into my mouth and being rushed to the ER with all the signs of a serious heart attack.

It has now been 31 days since I left the hospital after being in three different facilities over a three and half month period. I have one goal these days - have a “good” day. For me a “good” day is one where I’m not in the hospital and I’m alive. No more dreams of returning to 40 hour work weeks or 10 hour days. I’m not entering the Senior Olympics when I turn 55 in June and I’m not even thinking about returning to Cardiac Rehab. I have to focus on one thing right now - or I might not survive my next big “drive” to do more that I should.

The problem is that my mind hasn’t changed with my heart. And I have found myself trying to do more than my heart wants to do because my head says I’m not doing enough. I’m having to come to the painful truth that my head is a liar and is out to kill me. In fact the harsh reality is that my head would cause me to self-destruct if I let it. And I’ve not yet figured out how to make it shut up.

Example: This week I vacuumed my bedroom and that was okay. No furniture to move - just a basic square room. Then I cleaned the kitchen floor - again, very small area, not bad. But then I went to start the living room. This is a room where plants have been turned over, grandsons have eaten, the cat has - well, what older cats do - and it required the moving of a chair here, picking up a table here, etc. Within 30 seconds of moving the vacuum cleaner I was grabbing my chest and looking for a seat that wasn’t buried. I kept my cool, started breathing deep diaphramic breaths but the pain was a huge reminder that I wasn’t the same person who used to vacuum the entire apartment with ease. Fortunately I’ve come to understand the difference between my spasmodic heart pain and an actual heart attack but pain is pain and I didn’t like this at all.

It took nearly two hours before I was able to skim through vacuuming the room and put things back in order because I had to rest every two minutes of exertion. The last thing I wanted to do was tell my roommate what happened but when she asked how my day went that night my “Fine” wasn’t very convincing and she eventually heard the truth.

Three days later she finally scolded me for doing more than I am supposed to. And then she asked me two questions, “Are you afraid to die?” and “Are you afraid to live?”

the first question was an easy “no.” I’ve come close too many times just this year that it really didn’t scare me. But living - that’s a different story. All the tears I had been holding in all week came flooding and I began confessing that I had found myself afraid to make plans even for the present day let alone for a month from now. And that the joy of dreaming of a future had become a painful nightmare. I was torn between wanting to plan my 55 birthday party in June and afraid to make plans because I “might” end up in the hospital two days before the celebration and everything would go to waste.

You see, my closet is presently filled with all the makings for dozens of Christmas cookies that I never got to make. My “Birthday Book” has birthday cards for friends and family for January through April that I never got to send. I didn’t even get to vote in thee Presidential Election because while on the way to the Early Voting Poll I ended up in the hospital! My mental “Day Runner” is filled with things I never got to do because a trip to the hospital got in the way.

I’ve come to a place that most heart patients come to - afraid to live. Unfortunately my response to this fear is to do the very opposite of what I should. I returned to my “driven” ways in order to make myself feel productive and useful. I cannot seem to grasp the concept of “rest” and in not doing so I could easily end up in the very place I’m trying to avoid.

For me, learning to rest, comes from realizing one thing - I am not my own and my life is not my own. When I have spoken about my close encounters with death (to the point of finding myself standing next to myself watching nurses trying to “bring me back.”) I have been asked “were you tempted to not come back?” My answer has been, “I didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t my decision to make.”

I am here because God has kept me here - not because I willed myself to be here. And I need to keep THAT in mind when it comes to how I treat this life I’ve been given.
My roommate told me that the doctor who put in my seven stents said he only had one hope for me after my heart attack in January - that he could somehow give me “good” days. And that is what I need to aim for each morning. “Good” days are when I can take care of my personal needs, maybe drive myself to the store, tend to the cat, and write a few more paragraphs. This doesn’t sound like much but it’s a lot more than those in the medical profession who have seen my heart thought I would be doing.

Living this way is the opposite of what the world says is success and even some of my friends would rather see the overly optimistic overcoming attitude they’ve seen in me in the past. But I have to deny myself that way of life. Why? Because I need to be content with one thing right now - having “good” days. Days where the pain in my chest is somewhat tolerable, days when I am home and not in the hospital, days when I accomplish just one thing above and beyond the five “must do to live” things required every day.

This might not sound all that encouraging to you and might not seem like I have that same overcoming spirit I’ve displayed in the past. You might even be thinking I need a little more “conquering” spirit. But I now know there is one thing that I need more than a conquering spirit and that is contentment. It is contentment and rest where my life needs to be. And as long as I can be content with “good” days I won’t find myself doing things that will put me back in bed or into the hospital.

I wonder if this is where Paul had found himself when he said “I’ve learned that no matter what state I am in to be content.” So today on my “To Do” list is one more important item: “Be content.” Maybe if I put it on my list I will remember to do it. And if I put it on the list everyday I might just reach a place where I do it without being reminded. I could be content with that.

From the heart,

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dayenu - A Passover Lesson in "It is Enough!"

An Open Heart Journal
Living /Each Day Better Than the One Before
April 13, 2009

I had an appointment with my cardiologist today which was very good. It was the first time for him to see me since February and he was quite amazed at how well I looked and am feeling. It felt great to go and also return home on the same day without stopping at the hospital. It is now Day 24 of being out of the hospital and today's appointment seemed to confirm that "so far, so good." There is one word to describe how I really feel - content. Is my blood pressure still high - yes, and often on a daily basis - but the amount of medication need to bring it down will certainly make me a zombie which is NOT an option for me. Do I still have chest pains? - yes, but now I've learned to handle them without panicking. Am I seriously limited in my daily activities - oh, you bet, but I don't stress over 20 item "to do" lists anymore and stay content with just my "Big Five" and rejoice when something can be added. The following is one example of how I am learning to live one day at a time and one moment at a time in this hectic, driven world.



This year my favorite part of the Passover Seder came during what used to seem the most tedious and boring - the recitation of the "Dayenu." In Hebrew "Dayenu" means "It is enough." Now, this is NOT the "I've had enough, and I'm not going to take it anymore" thinking. It literally means, if nothing else happens, what just took place is enough.

In the Passover this phrase is said after each of 15 steps it took to remove the Children of Israel from Egypt. It literally goes like this..."If You (God) had only brought us to the Red Sea but not parted it - DAYENU!" and everyone in the room shouts"Dayenu" and slapping their hand on the table for emphasis. This happens 15 times (or more if the Seder is a "Messianic" Seder where Yeshua is recognized as the Passover Lamb and Messiah) and is usually followed by singing the song also called, "Dayenu."

But the reality is that for most of us the idea of "Dayenua" almost absurd. Who, in their right mind is going to say, "If You had only parted the Red Sea but not let us go through it, it would have been enough" ?

Think about one thing thing that God has done for you this year. And then go back just one step away from that one thing's completion. Could you honestly say something like, "If You (God) had only brought me to the hospital in time but not let the doctor's save my life, it would have been enough." Now I do realized that had He NOT saved your life you wouldn't be saying anything at all - but I'm just trying to make Hebrew point in the midst of our insanely Greek thinking.

In what areas can you right now tell God, "It is (or would have been) enough?" This is truly the Hebrew version of, "It is well with my soul."

I have figured out my Dayenu and I was so reminded of it during this Passover I found myself shouting "Dayenu" louder and with more meaning than in the past 12 Seders I have attended.

My "Dayenu" is this..."If You (God) brought me through the surgeries and never heal my heart, it is enough." Now I know that won't sit well with many of you but Ihear me out. I'm not saying God can't or won't heal my heart nor am I saying to stop praying for the healing of my heart. But right now I am doing this one thing - living with whatever heart I have and right now that's proving to be successful. If I have just one thing to focus on it is to have more "good" days than bad ones. Whatever God wants to do and whenever He wants to do it is up to Him and not me and I have chosen to be content right where I am.

The truth is that everyone in the medical profession who has either seen my heart up close and personal or simply read my medical records is totally amazed I'm doing anything at all let alone, walking, driving, shopping and living! On paper I look dead! But here I am. I'm not running a marathon, in fact I'm not even walking on a treadmill, but I AM walking and I am alive and I am having GOOD days. And you know what? - that is DAYENU!

My daily goals are very simple - to do the five things I have to do everyday which are essential to my physical well being and maybe add just one or two more activities. I'm not driving myself to clean the whole apartment - I'm content to be able to clean one shelf or one drawer or simply iron one shirt. Why? Because I am simply content to have a "good" day. Some days I end up doing even more than the doctors think I can do and there is really no natural explanation - but God. He can and does strengthen me to do more even though my heart is just as sick today as it was yesterday. To me THAT is a miracle and it truly is "Dayenu."

Yes, I DO believe God heals - I experienced it first hand having been the first Baptist girl I knew healed from a wheelchair during a 15 minute nap. And please, do not tell me that my "dayenu" attitude is going to keep me from being healed this time. The truth is, I've had this same attitude for the majority of my life and never knew there was a word for it. I even had it the very day I laid down to take a nap with my entire body wracked with the pain of Lupus and I woke up completely whole.

It is 'Dayenu" that brings me to tell God, "I still trust matter how far You bring me or even where You leave me."

Friends, we are living in a day when not everything we have been taught about God is playing out for us and His absolute Sovereignty in everything is being presented to us in what may appear to be painful and frightening ways. But it does not have to be painful OR frightening. We need to cling to one thing - that not only IS God Sovereign, but He is forever loving - even in the midst of His Sovereignty. Somehow the Children of Israel already knew this and they were instructed to pass this understanding down from one generation to another.

It might not "feel" good but I believe we all need a little, "Dayenu" in our lives today. And for those who know the melody, try singing the song, Dayenu, as a song of true worship to the One Who is truly in control, loves you and will bring you into His Kingdom when it is truly "all said and done,"



Friday, April 3, 2009

Three Heart Cries - Three Musical Answers

An Open Heart Journal
Living Each Day Better than the One Before
April 3, 2009

Three Heart Cries - Three Musical Answers

Music has been a major part of my life since I was a little girl. My Father collected records - mostly classical music with a little Herb Albert thrown in and he would quiz me to identify songs by their title, composer and dates while at the dinner table or while watching a television program that used classical music in the background. I didn’t get it right the first time but I worked hard to get it right the second. Music has made me smile, cry, and even choose life over death on more than one occasion. When I’m in pain or going through a long medical test that requires me to lie still for long periods I play the Alphabet Game which I learned from comedian Chonda Pierce. You start with the letter “A” and sing at least one hymn for each letter of the alphabet. I rarely finish but just the attempt always calms this little Baptist heart and mind that memorized much of the Baptist Hymnal during the 69’s and 70’s. Twice in the past the Lord has used a wonderfully talented songwriter/singer to touch my heart and yesterday He did it a third time.

In 1984 when I thought I might never live to see my only son grow up a song called “The Warrior is a Child” played on the radio while I was carefully driving myself home after a long day and discouraging day with the doctor. I turned on the radio just in time to hear these words...

Lately I've been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I'm amazing
Strong beyond my years
But they don't see inside of me
I'm hiding all the tears

They don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
'Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

©Twila Paris “The Warrior is a Child” 1984

I was so touched by the song I had to pull over just to cry. I remember going to the Christian bookstore instead of home just to find this album which was brand new at the time. I even wrote Twila and met her both at a concert in Dallas and once again at the same Christian bookstore so I could tell her thank you. More than one of her songs reached my heart and I was very grateful. I used several of her songs when I visited patients at a local Cancer treatment hospital to sing to them in their rooms.

A few years later I found myself a single mom fighting for custody of my son and feeling like I was losing in every area of my life. I was so suicidal that I knew I shouldn’t be alone so I drove to a friend’s house. While on my way there I turned on the radio just in time to hear Twila’s familiar voice singing these words...
For the young abandoned husband
Left alone without a reason
For the pilgrim in the city where there is no home
For the son without a father
For his solitary mother
I have a message
He sees you. He knows you
He loves you. He loves you
Every heart that is breaking tonight
Is the heart of a child that He holds in His sight
And Oh how He longs to hold in His arms
Every heart that is breaking tonight

©Twila Paris “Every Heart that is Breaking Tonight” 1989

Once again, I pulled the car over and wept. I swore I heard Twila say my name as she sang “He sees you, He knows you...” and I knew that taking my life was not what He wanted for me or my son. Just a few weeks later I sang that song in church and only one other person understood the real impact of those words on my heart and life.

Yesterday, the Lord used the same artist while I was driving on the same road and spoke to me so clearly with the promise that He has not forgotten me. This was the first “long” drive I had made in many, many months and I was headed back to my son’s house after running several errands in my own home area. I was happily listening to my iPod through my radio when interference made hearing the music impossible. I switched stations and in just a matter of seconds heard Twila singing...”When you think your dream has died - He has not forgotten you. When your body aches from trying - He has not forgotten you.” This time I wasn’t able to pull the car over but I wept because it was as if she was singing words right from my deepest heart cries that very morning.

Here is what the first half of the song says:

When you think your dream has died
He has not forgotten you
When your body aches from trying
He has not forgotten you
When you worry for tomorrow
even though the sky is blue
See the sun is shining
And He has not forgotten you

When your life feels like December
He has not forgotten you
When it's painful to remember
He has not forgotten you
When it seems you cannot live
And there is not much let to lose
He has got a plan
He has not forgotten you

And hope will spring eternal
in the home of those who know
That loving eyes will follow
everywhere we go
Even in the darkness
His promises are true
Keep this in your heart
He has not forgotten you

He is faithful
He is present
He is listening
He is love

©Twila Paris “Not Forgotten” 2009

This album was just released in February and is titled “Small Sacrifice” and I encourage you to find it and listen. These are songs with a message for most of us today that find ourselves facing things we never thought we would be facing. Twila has spoken to the Body once again with purpose and encouragement in a way no one else can.

And so my heart, though tired and in pain, physically and emotionally, is clinging to the promise that He has NOT forgotten me. Yes, my life feels like December and many times in the past weeks I wondered if there was anything else I could lose. But there is still this underlying hope that HE has not forgotten me.

My hope for you is that you will know that He has not forgotten you. It’s not just lyrics from a song. It’s promise in His Word and sealed even with the blood of His own Son. As we enter the season of Passover and First Fruits (Resurrection of our Savior) let us remember that not only our salvation but our life here and in eternity has been bought, paid for and sealed by the promised Messiah and His death and resurrection. This is no trite promise - it is a guarantee that “He has NOT forgotten you.”

From the Heart,