It seems to me when we confront a crisis in our life, it helps to think back on our life like a novel. We look at the chapters and we see patterns and themes we never noticed before. As we recall these chapters, we come to appreciate the treasures in our lives that we often take for granted. We pledge to write additional chapters revealing new treasures.
It may be things that are parents said to us or did that when we were teenagers sounded or seemed lame, but now resonate like the wisdom of Solomon. It may be things that occurred in our life that at the time seem like a coincidence, but now we realize were blessings God created just as we faced adversity, or as we needed strength to overcome a challenge that had blocked our path forward.
As one example, I give thanks that I seem to have inherited my Mom's persistence because I think it feeds my health discipline. My Mom was born in the state of Missouri, and the state animal is a Missouri Mule. I am sure you heard the old saying, stubborn as a mule, and we also talked in my family about being as stubborn as a Missouri Mule. No surprise that we were often talking about my Mom.
What does that saying even mean? I looked at the idioms section of the Free Dictionary website. Here is the meaning I liked best and the one that applies most to my Mom: If someone is as stubborn as a mule, they are determined to do what they want and very unwilling to change their mind. The only thing I would clarify is with my Mom, it was not just something that she wanted to do. Often, she was persistent and stubborn because she knew the act she was attempting to do was fair and decent.
The incident that is seared in my brain of my Mom’s persistence was from a winter evening when I was living in New York City. By that time, my Dad had been in a nursing home for a while, and my Mom would go to visit him after she got home from work to spend some time with him and to be with him while he had dinner. I would call her every night to check on her and see how she was doing. One night, it took her a while to answer the phone. I was a little concerned because I knew that there was a snow storm in the Washington D.C. area, and I did not think she should be out during the storm.
When she finally answered the phone, I asked her where she had been. She said that she had been at the nursing home0. Because it was snowing, she had decided not to take her car, but to walk the mile or so in the dark to the nursing home. The first words out of my mouth were: “You did WHAT???????” She clearly did not want to debate an action that to her made perfect sense. She didn’t want to risk driving during a snow event when she had two perfectly good (and stubborn) legs that could take her where she must go. In this instance, it was necessary she go and check on the mate who she had exchanged marriage vows with many years before.
Later on, after she retired, there were many episodes showcasing my Mom’s persistence and resourcefulness. Often, these episodes allegedly involved not wanting to bother someone who was busy when she could figure out a way to get a task done. I often referred to her as Mother MacGyver, because she would come up with these ingenious methods to perform on her own a task that might really need two people or more resources.
So here is just one example. Much to my chagrin, my Mom continue to mow her own lawn (and shovel her own snow) till she was in her late 70s. She said she needed the exercise. One day, the lawn mower was on the fritz, and she had to take it in for repairs. She was a petite woman, and in her 70s, and she realized she did not have the strength to lift the lawn mower on her own into the car. She found some plywood in the garage and made a little ramp into the trunk of the car so she could scoot the lawn mower up the ramp into the trunk.
When I called her that evening to see what she had done during the day, she told me about the lawn mower. I said, “Mom, you know I come out every Saturday to walk with you. You could have just waited till I came and helped you put the lawn mower in the trunk.” Her response? “Well, you’re so busy I didn’t want to bother you.” I suspect that even if I had been living the life of luxury, eating candies in front of the television, and working on crossword puzzles, she still would have embarked on these challenges on her own. I think that deep down, she wanted to take on a challenge and prove she could tackle it.
It is the same persistence that inspires me to walk in a parking garage for an hour in rainy weather so I can keep my strength up for the transplant surgery. It is the same passion for accomplishing a demanding task that keeps me focused on learning how this Milrinone pump really works, and that keeps me on top of the diet and fluid restrictions even though it means that my diet is at times about as appetizing as eating cardboard. These two inherited traits from my Mom are two traits I am banking on to help me overcome this heart challenge.
Because of the persistence willed to me by my Mom, I know that God will see me through this. I have to accept that it will happen in God’s time and not necessarily my time. To be able to accept this, I need God bestow upon me the gift that my Mom and I never found under our Christmas trees, and that is the gift of patience.
I began to wonder if it the persistence to take on a challenge undermines one’s ability to be patient. When you think about it, persistence is always in the mode of GO, or worse, GO FASTER, while patience is more of a wait and see mode. How can a persistent, stubborn person ever expect to find the ability to be patient? Happily, I believe that all things are possible with God’s help. So I am I persistently praying to God to deliver to me not only the gift of patience, but the gift to balance persistence and patience so that I can calmly discern what it is I am here to do, and then persistently make sure that it gets done! I am God indeed bestow the gift of patience on me, and it will become one of my newest and most useful treasures.
Why am I sure? Because I decided to look up the definition of patience. I had a pleasant surprise when I examined the definition found in the Cambridge English dictionary:
The pleasant surprise is this: of the three things mentioned, I already possess one based on my persistence. Despite any obstacle thrown in my way, I am so stubborn and determined that I will be able to carry on. This means that despite my inbred impatience, I have the ability to learn the techniques need to build serenity and calm, and in turn, finally master the trait of patience!
It also dawns on me that of the three things mentioned my Mom was missing only one: The ability to wait. Up until her final days on this earth, the woman could not tolerate having to wait. It wasn’t like she had a busy social calendar, but if a doctor was late for an appointment, she would look at her watch continually as if she had another engagement she was missing. She just didn’t like sitting still and waiting. I may not be looking at my watch every few minutes, but I feel I am channeling my Mom’s inability to sit still while I’m waiting for the phone call to come to the hospital for the heart transplant.
Despite the inability to wait with grace, I have already discussed how my Mom would use her creativity and her persistence to complete a task done despite difficulties. But my Mom, and my Dad for that matter, also possessed the ability to suffer without complaining. They never told me about the difficult obstacles they had to surmount growing up on farms during the depression, as well as the hardships and fear they confronted during the World War II years. I learned about these from other members of their families.
I suppose it is possible they vented to close friends or family members when they experienced the difficulties of their lives. It I possible, but I do not think it is probable. I choose to believe that they just soldiered on and overcame whatever challenges came their way. I believe this because I have observed that people who complain about adversity in their lives never seem to let the complaints go. Their complaints live on like zombies long after events end. As I have said before, I never heard my parents complain about the challenges they experienced.
While my parents mastered the never complaining facet of patience, it is one that I believe needs my serious attention. Every night when I pray, I ask God to help me work on this. However, I do more than ask God. Because I know that Mom and Dad are listening in on my prayers, I thank them for all they gave me during my life. I tell them that I much admire how they never complained about their obstacles growing up. I ask them if they could channel the stiff upper lip, or glass half full, or whatever philosophy they used during life to just help me to move forward.
If I could add the ability to stop complaining about my heart issues, or grumbling about the difficulty of waiting, or lamenting how the diet sucks, I think my time would become so much more constructive. The waiting period would no longer seem like time in the penalty box. Instead, it would become precious time that I could use pre-transplant to draft my letter to the donor’s family, to do more research into how to volunteer for the transplant community, and to brainstorm on ideas to advocate for people with chronic illnesses. When you think about it, the waiting time is useful to develop a plan because once I recover from the transplant, I am going to have a surge of energy I need to put to good use . I am not going to want to spend my time developing a plan!
While I am waiting, it is time to use those precious inherited traits from my parents to develop a plan. While I am waiting, it is time to let God invest patience in me, so that it can become my new treasure. It is time to definitely petition and praise God!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.