Five days before my 48th birthday, my life took a 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. It is often fatal. Without medical treatment and lifestyle changes, it is always fatal.)
Really? Me? I felt totally healthy, worked full-time, was married, had two sons in college and an intense, 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 to medication and the lifestyle changes that I kept working for another four years.
Eventually, 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. Having chosen life every day since my diagnosis, I chose life again and stepped into the void. I resigned my pastorate and applied for disability from The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United States government. Five years later, that sentence is still hard to see in print.
Now I do short-term projects, volunteer in the community, write, teach, learn new skills, and practice not feeling a need to be productive 24/7. That last one is the hardest.
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.
Changing Direction grows from my desire to live a good life no matter what life brings. I write about my life. I write about values, respond to issues in the world, and give tips for living mindfully. I write about my challenges and what keeps me going, my frustrations and joy, and the places I find beauty. My Christian faith undergirds what I write and how I live, even when I don’t mention it explicitly.
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?” (The Long Way Home, Louise Penny). In contrast, living well flows from a spring of gratitude. It carries the fragrance of kindness and grace. It vibrates–sometimes boldly and sometimes quietly–with courage, resilience, mindfulness, and hope. That is the life I want to keep living.