Maralyn's Updates

Friday, March 28, 2008

Resurrection Peace

It was just ten days after I got out of the hospital (March 13) that we were supposed to go to Bill and Nancy’s for dinner, (remember Nancy my physical therapist?) when all of a sudden my heart flip-flopped into Atrial Fibrillation again. I couldn’t have been more distraught.

“I thought the new medication would keep the A-Fib from happening,” I cried to Jim. “I don’t need this on top of everything else.”

So Jim held me and comforted me, then we had a long talk. And in his loving, fatherly way, he said, “Honey, I wouldn’t have chosen this either, but we can’t change it. It just is. Taking the beta blocker doesn’t mean you won’t have A-Fib, the blood thinner just keeps you from getting clots afterwards.”

“But I’m sick of this. I thought the meds would take away the episodes.”

“Babe, just relax and accept it. Fear isn’t necessary…”

Over the next seven days I had five bouts of A-Fib, so I made an appointment with the cardiologist to see if the medication needed to be adjusted.

But looking back I can see that God arranged this month to be the perfect learning environment for the next thing he wanted to teach me. The fact that Easter was laced through there was not coincidental!

Through the next few days God invited me to walk through the garden of my heart and look at all of the weeds of fear that were growing there. Suppressed fears. Buried worries. Anyone who has any melancholy like me knows that there are lots of “what-if’s” that can dance through the brain. What if I have a stroke on top of the ALS…? What if I get to the point where I can’t even move, or talk, or write…?

Every time my heart would go out of rhythm, the challenge was there again. Uproot the weeds of fear! Jim’s words would echo: “Fear isn’t necessary. God IS trustworthy. Fear changes nothing, in fact it probably complicates things.”

It was deep, hard work pulling out those weeds. Some of them had really deep roots. Could I really get them uprooted? Throw them out of the garden so they would not re-root?

Then it happened. An episode of A-Fib started at 2:30 A.M. Always before I would get up and wait it out…usually 3-5 hours. I couldn’t stand to lie in bed and listen to my heart trying to jump out of my chest. I would always busy myself with something as a distraction. But that night I resisted the urge to get up. The scriptures that I had been memorizing began to peacefully play through my brain.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Isa. 26:3

“In quietness and trust is your strength.” Isa. 30:15

Next thing I knew it was an hour later. I had fallen asleep! Never before had I slept while in A-Fib. I roused briefly at 4:30 and then 5:30…only to find my heart still shaking. Occasionally Jim would say, “Is it still doing it?” “Yes, but it’s okay. I don’t feel afraid.” Then he would hug me and we would both fall back asleep. A-w-w-w, I thought, this is one of the benefits of weeding my garden. Sleep! Sweet peaceful sleep. When I awakened at 6:30 my heart was peacefully beating in rhythm, acting like nothing had ever happened, and I knew I had grown to a new level of acceptance and trust.

Easter dawned about the time my brain dawned.

If Jesus conquered death, why am I afraid of it?

Because he came back to life, so will I!

I will die, and so will you, but death is a doorway to something better.

The timing of my death will be exactly as God has planned it.

No amount of worrying is going to change that. I can rest easily.

It’s all in God’s hands. And those are good hands.

I read the account of the resurrection in all four gospels, and what jumped out were phrases like “Peace be with you” and “Don’t be afraid.” H-m-m-m! God is an amazing teacher. Staging the learning environment…planning the lessons…and giving opportunity to practice.

The day after Easter I went to see the cardiologist, and he explained to me that the nature of Atrial Fibrillation is to become more frequent and intense over time, but that with my daily beta blocker the rapid, irregular heartbeat should stay within safe boundaries. The blood thinner is to keep clots from forming. “Don’t worry. Some people have Atrial Fibrillation 24 hours a day. It’s something you can live with.” Then he did something remarkable. Remembering that I was a Christian, he explained that he was an Eastern Orthodox believer. “I have a very stressful job. I couldn’t make it without the Lord. Every day I put holy oil on my forehead to remind me of God’s presence and help.” He then touched his own forehead and then reached his finger to touch mine, making a tiny cross with the oil. “Peace be with you.” Tears stung my eyes. It was the very lesson God had been teaching me all month.

Three days later I saw my neurologist, and that was also sweet. He checked my strength, examined me, asked questions, watched me walk, and concluded, “I don’t see very much change at all. The ALS is still there, but it doesn’t seem to be moving very quickly. Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.” Nancy had sent him my physical therapy reports, he knew about the hospitalization, he saw the drop in my cholesterol, and he knew of our healthy diet and my regular workouts. He congratulated me and told me to keep up the good work. Sweetness!

What a powerful month-long lesson this has been. So hard…but so good. I now know on a deeper lever that I don’t have to worry about anything. I can be in total peace. Why? Because Jesus conquered death.

Peace be with YOU—resurrection peace!


P.S. On Easter eve our daughter-in-law Rhonda asked if she could take some photos of us in her basement amateur studio. It was a really fun ten minutes. Here are some of the results.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Next Appointment

Hi! Several of you have asked when my next doctor's appointment is. I have two appointments next week. I'll see the cardiologist on Monday (24th) and the neurologist on Thursday (27th). I'll be writing another blog at the end of March to let you know what they said.

Meanwhile, Happy Resurrection Day--Let the miracle of it sink into your soul!


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Dark Room--Dancing Fire

Last night Jim and I just savored the moment. The only light on in the house was the flickering fire, and as we sat there on the couch in front of our Finnish fireplace we talked about our difficult week, but mostly we rejoiced in the bright sparks along the way.

First a flashback to the darkness…then the light.

Last Tuesday morning when I wrote my blog, I couldn’t have imagined how hard the coming week was going to be. It started that night when my acid reflux came back with a vengeance. I thought my dietary changes had made it unnecessary to take my daily Prilosec, but I was wrong. The stomach acid fried my vocal cords and Wednesday I could barely speak. Wednesday night I was able to fulfill my commitment to visit a ladies’ Bible study in my new neighborhood, and talk about going through trials and tribulations; they are studying in the book of James. I loved meeting those ladies and it was fun finding connections to the students Jim and I had taught in this community 1969-1984. My voice could barely croak, but anyway they seemed to want to hear what I had to say.

Thursday my voice was still scratchy. Friday it began to come back. Saturday I was supposed to participate in a ladies day at our church, presenting part of a workshop on hospitality. I had scripted my part of the talk just in case my voice wouldn’t cooperate and Leata would need to read it for me.

Saturday morning, just before I was ready to leave for church, my heartbeat became irregular. That’s not so unusual because since the fall of 2005, when my Atrial Fibrillation was first diagnosed, I have had some revisitations of the irregular beat. However, they’ve always been easily correctable with a pill called a beta blocker, so I wasn’t worried. I had the pills in my purse and had determined to take one when I got to the church. However, just down the street I felt dizzy and funny, so I turned around and went back home and lay down. I hated calling Leata to say that she was going to have to present the whole workshop alone.

I tried to rest, but when my breathing became labored, Jim suggested that we go to the Emergency Room. Once there, I was attached to an IV, and all kinds of beepers and monitors. Within a few minutes, the decision was made to admit me to the hospital, where I remained for the next two days. My heartbeat did regulate after six hours, but it went out of rhythm again for about 45 minutes the next morning. The attending physician recommended that I talk to the cardiologist on Monday morning before going home. The doctor was a visiting physician coming from Marshfield Clinic, where my neurologist is. After examining my records and asking me some questions, he prescribed a daily beta blocker, a different one that I had been taking for my occasional episodes, and a blood thinner to reduce the risk of strokes that can accompany Atrial Fibrillation.

Monday afternoon Jim brought me back, and home never looked so good!

Throughout the week I had several times of frustration and despair. “Why me? Why this, too? God, I didn’t need THIS and THIS on top of THAT!” I complained.

I don’t know whether I was more like King David in one of his lament Psalms, or Elijah under the broom tree (I Kings 19), or Job when he complained to God about his multiple trials.

In the hospital I did read through the whole book of Job! I thought I was going to have a lot in common with him, but I found out that by comparison, I have NO problems at all. For instance, Jim hasn’t been behaving at all like Job’s wife who said, “Just curse God and die!” But Jim’s supportive love has been only one of many bright spots throughout the week, and last night as we basked in the warmth of the fire, we also reveled in the ways God showed his goodness throughout the week.

In brief:

--On the way to the ER, as I was struggling to breathe, I prayed that our friend Chuck Conger would be the physician on duty that day…and as we wheeled around the corner into the room, there he was! (Thank you, God! I thought.)

--Then once I was admitted, I found out that one of my nurses in the critical care unit was Erica who had been a grade school classmate of our son, Paul. She remembered coming to our house for a birthday party. I smiled when she reminded me that the theme of the party was “The Purple Cow”—a take-off on the well-known children’s poem by the same name. I hadn’t seen her since she was eight years old.

--It was somehow comforting to be back in the hospital where I had given birth to our two sons (1972 & 1973), and I was amazed and delighted at the quality of care I received. Wow!

--In the process of the multiple tests, injections, and exams that I had over the two days, we found out that my lungs were clear, my heart muscle was healthy, and that my cholesterol had dropped 96 points in only two months (from 294 to 198!) The Triglycerides, HDL and LDL were all within the normal range. That hasn’t been true for a long time! (I’m in a family where almost nobody’s cholesterol is normal!) The healthy diet, the vitamin supplement, the exercise, the flaxseed, the oatmeal, it probably all played a role, but it was neat how God arranged for us to find out early—long before a normal check-up would have revealed it. It was so encouraging to know that the regimen is working!

--The cardiologist was open and friendly, and we found out later he is highly respected in his field. What amazed us is how openly he declared that our lives are in the hands of God and that he can be trusted. Wow! He also told us that in his opinion, my neurologist is the best in the state of Wisconsin. When he left the room, we looked at each other and said, “That was a God thing!”

--When he left, I was soon released to go home. Finally, the hospital drama was over and I was unhooked from the IV, the heart monitors, the hospital bed, and most happily the salt-free food that was dictated for every patient in critical care. Yuk!

--We stopped by the pharmacy to pick up my new prescriptions and while Jim was inside, I dialed in one of our local Christian radio stations. In God’s perfect timing, there was Beth Moore telling me that God has my best at heart…now and always.

--After we pulled into our driveway, Jim got the mail from our box and there was a little package from my friend Karen who is wintering in Florida. She sent me Scott Abbott’s CD “Palm of Your Hand.” Wow, what a song!

--Then, I went to my own bed and enjoyed a nice long nap not connected to a thousand wires. Sweetness. (I think you have to be without something before you can really appreciate it!)

--When I awoke, Jim said that Dean and Leata had called and they were coming with supper. We would all eat together. Don’t you love the body of Christ? Sitting by the fire after they went home we talked about the blessing of our 27-year friendship with them.

--In the evening, I pulled out my book Diamonds in the Dust, by Joni Eareckson Tada. The reading for March 3 couldn’t have been more perfect. Joni described the Maryland farm where she was raised, saying that the path from the county road to their front door was a straight one, but that when the rain had made it muddy, it was anything but easy. She quoted Proverbs 3:5-6 then in the prayer at the end wrote, “…I acknowledge today that I am not promised an easy path, just a straight one if I trust entirely in You. Lord with every pothole, rut, or barrier I may come across, help me to remember to lean on You.” My heart resonated with her words. By the way, I want to say a big thank you to my dear friend Grace for sending me Joni’s book. Your physical challenges and mine cause us both to identify with much of Joni’s perspective on life. You were right. I love this daily devotional!

--And this is sweet! When I got home I found a bouquet of fresh flowers on the table from the ladies at the Bible study I had visited last Wednesday. Thank you to Kathy, Brook, Tanya, Jen, Tracy, Wendy, NorAnne, Michelle, and Kristen. Your gift was God’s exclamation mark that he is my light in the darkness. Last week at this time I hadn’t even met most of you, but now I can’t wait to someday host you in my home.

So! That’s my story. It was a tough week, but there were beams of God’s light everywhere.

“Lord, please help me to remember to focus on the light…not the darkness.”