Five days before my 48th birthday, my life took an unexpected 90-degree turn. I went to the doctor for a routine checkup and received a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. (With CHF, the heart still pumps, but not efficiently. At that time, it was almost always fatal.)
Really? Me? I felt totally healthy, was a full-time senior past of a large church, was married, had two sons in college, and an active life. Heart failure was a total surprise.
I knew enough about heart disease to realize this was serious. Doctors, family, and friends would do their part to help, but there was much that only I could do. I reduced my stress, changed my diet, brought my life into a healthier balance. I altered my priorities and my definition of success. As the Hebrew Bible says, I “chose life.”
It made a difference. Even though my heart was too damaged to recover fully, it responded well enough that I kept working for another four years.
Then my cardiologist said I had to make another set of choices: “You can keep doing what you’re doing and shorten your life or resign from your position and maybe live longer.” If the heart diagnosis had turned my life direction 90 degrees, this news turned my life upside down.
I had been a Presbyterian pastor for twenty-six years and loved it. But I chose life again, resigned my pastorate, and stepped into the void.
It’s been more than ten years since I left the pastorate and more than fourteen since my original diagnosis. In 2016, my heart failure became severe again and I received a bi-ventricular defibrillator. It’s working well and I have another chance at life. I’m tired of picking myself up and pushing forward, but I’m not ready for the alternative. So, here I go again.
Through it all, I am grateful for life. For husband, family, and friends who love me. For gardens and mountains, good food and books. For faith and communities of faith. For ways to use my experience, gifts, time, and energy for good in the world and in common life.
I write about my values, living mindfully, and current issues. I write about the frustrations and joys of ordinary life. One of my favorite books begins, “Life is hard.” Yes, it is. It is also filled with beauty and moments of grace that are amplified when we notice them and give thanks.
As Inspector Armand Gamache says in The Long Way Home, “What’s the use of healing if the life that’s saved is callow and selfish and ruled by fear?” I want to live well, a life that carries the fragrance of kindness and grace. That type of life vibrates–sometimes boldly and sometimes quietly–with courage, resilience, mindfulness, and hope. Join me in that kind of life.
Barbara, I followed your posts a couple of years ago but have not received any recently. I curious if you are continuing to blog or whether I’ve inadvertently been removed from your list? I also wonder how you are doing with health-related matters you raised in previous reflections. For your information, I was a student minister serving a Sugar Creek Presbyterian Church in the mid-1960’s where you and your family attended in Kettering, Ohio.
Wonderful meeting you yesterday. What a terrific blog!
I am inspired by your About page. I find much encouragement and hope in your words in spite of the challenges life has given you. I look forward to reading your posts!
I just read your blog. Thank you for sharing the story of your journey with us. It is very uplifting in a way. And it reminded me that I got my cancer diagnosis at about the same age as you got your diagnosis of CHF. I survived it and since then I have tried to change priorities. I was not always successful, because, in a way, our weaknesses are also our strengths, and like you, I loved my work, my family and the commitment to issues important to me. But I keep trying, making space available to rest, to regenerate and not to abuse myself… By the way, since we met in Zürich last September, I have also published a little book of spiritual texts (only available in German). And I am deep in preparing the new interreligious study course for Christian and Muslim women.
Your writing is wonderful and encouraging, please keep at it, I think you are in the place where you are meant to be – a writer of spiritual literature! I’ll spend New Year with my brother Helmut in LA – so I hope to see you then!
Meanwhile God bless you and “dwell in possibility”.
Greetings from Zürich!