About six weeks ago, I had a truly dismal weekend. It started on a Friday morning when I was taking my daily blood pressure reading. This has become my absolute worst medical requirement, even worse than having to send my daily weight to a monitoring center.
To begin with, I have incredibly low blood pressure, and the heart medications I am on make it even lower. In my opinion, the readings have no relation to how I am really feeling. On days when I have a lot of energy and think I can conquer the world, I will have a lower reading. Then the next day, when getting out my pajamas seems like a big achievement, my blood pressure reading will be higher. Go figure?
But on this particular morning, my blood pressure monitor displayed the “irregular heartbeat” symbol. The instructions tell you to wait a few minutes and take the reading again, and usually the symbol will have disappeared. But the symbol continued to appear throughout the weekend. I felt for my heartbeat, and it seemed as though my heart was adding an extra beat.
Needless to say I was a bit apprehensive – no scratch that, I was anxious and extremely frustrated. I play by all the rules – take my medications when scheduled; get as much physical activity as I can; get as much rest as I can; eat exactly what the medical team tells me to eat; and drink exactly the amount of fluids they tell me to drink. If you look at the definition of compliant in the dictionary and you will see my picture. I mean – I don’t do anything dangerous like binge eat potassium laden potatoes, bananas, avocados or spinach! So to say I was frustrated would be an epic understatement. I asked myself the question why do I even bother to do the right things if my heart can just decide on its own to go rogue?
Despite being frustrated, instead of just throwing caution to the wind, the model patient mode kicked in and I checked with several doctors' offices and arranged an appointment with the electrophysiologist who put my cardiac device inside me in 2014. I felt a little better knowing that someone could check the record in the device, ask me pertinent questions, and figure out what the issue might be. The fact that they weren’t scheduling me for an immediate appointment gave me comfort that we weren’t dealing with an emergency.
But I would have a little over two weeks to let my imagination run wild, which did not seem like a good thing. I needed to peel myself off the ceiling because the extra anxiety over the extra beats would not do my heart any good. So I decided my best course of action was to turn to God by reading the Bible. I did a search of verses, with the goal of taking heart in verses about the heart (pun intended).
The first verse I found really spoke to both my head and my heart. It was a verse from Psalms Chapter 73. Before I tell you the verse, I need to put this particular chapter in context. My Bible is a Life Application Study Bible from Tyndale House Publishing, Inc., and it has commentary to explain the meaning of the verses. It said that the Psalm brings up the question that when the wicked prosper, it leaves Godly people wondering why they bother to be good. Where have we recently heard this? Oh I know - it was when I was complaining as to why I bothered to comply with the doctors’ orders when I was still getting crappy medical results? Maybe I should just take that as a sign and eat and drink and do whatever I want, and ditch medical science.
The answer of course is found in verse 26 of the Psalm: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Note to cardiologists: the Psalm writer knows that it is the health of God’s creatures that fail, not their hearts. In fact, if our spiritual hearts are grounded in God’s covenant, then they will remain strong and flourishing and will inspire us to continue to follow God regardless of how weak or damaged or enlarged the physical hearts become.
Or said another way, I always seem to forget the fact that my faith tells me that my time on this earth will ultimately end, and in my case, I am resigned to the fact that the end will likely be caused by my now damaged physical heart. But the faith, hope and strength I find with God will continue to pump into my heart, and is more life-sustaining than blood, although it is eternal life and not mortal life that is being strengthened . But isn’t that better? I will continue to live into eternity even when my physical heart actually does stop beating (which to me is the real definition of physical heart failure).
The other verse that gave me comfort is from the book of Proverbs, Chapter 3, verses 5 and 6. In the first few chapters of the book of Proverbs, King Solomon provides guidance and wisdom to young people. The topic of this chapter is trusting in the Lord. The verses I have cite above say: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths”.
According to my study bible, we get some credit as humans for having the ability to think and reason. But we need to do this in partnership with God. This means we need to bring our questions and decisions to God in prayer, use the Bible as a guide to discern and apply God’s will, and then proceed secure in the belief that he will nurture and protect us.
The problem is when I think I know the road so well I decide I can just make my own way down the path. Then when I find a detour along the path, not only am I confused about which way to turn, I have no one protecting my best interest.
I have made this vain error so many times, you think I would have learned by now. But I am incredibly dense when it comes to thinking I know better than God. Happily for my sake, God always practices much more patience and loyalty than I do. This means that he always makes sure that I get back on the road, and updates the map for me. (Can you hear a very deep, authoritative voice saying "spiritually recalculating?) The stops along God's path are always much more fulfilling than I ever could have found on my own, and I meet new people who I learn from and who are much better examples of how to live a purposeful life than I have ever been.
The most thought provoking commentary I found on this was from an article on the Bible Study Tools website entitled 7 Daily Steps to Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart. (Similar I guess to the popular book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but with a faith slant). The steps included things like: don’t depend on you; put God first in your life; and trust the Holy Spirit.
But the step that made me stop and think – and gave me a new perspective – was: Rest in God’s Love. I’ve had this discussion before. I find it exceedingly hard to rest and relax, and find mediation to be a chore and not restful. But maybe I was approaching rest from the wrong angle. The commentary said that when we have the ability to rest in God’s love, we no longer see our setbacks as failures. We see them as moments when God, our loving father, works on us. Maybe we're like pieces of clay that God is molding into a unique work of art?
When you’re running around like Ricochet Rabbit – pinging off every wall and every issue, well the damage from hitting the brick wall so many times is significant. You get to the point where you can’t run much less walk from God, and you have no choice but to rest. And if you listen and are very still, you can feel God’s love envelop you and there is a calm that sets in. What follows, if you don’t resist, is an interaction with God that is not only healing but is transforming. It is so transforming that you no longer just live. Your heart provides the spiritual rhythm for you to enter the dance floor with God – it truly is like dancing with the stars!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.