I’ve been living in (or out?) my “new life” for four months and one week now (well, who’s counting?!), and what a whirlwind it has been. I graduated from Seminary, I took a place as a resident at UCSF medical center beginning in September, and I went to General Synod in Pella, Iowa, blogging every step of the way.
Facing a health crisis at 23 through 25 was unexpected to say the least, and perhaps this is one of the greatest understatements known to humanity – what is that saying, no one expected the Spanish inquisition? Well, I certainly never saw this coming, but I wouldn’t change a thing about the last two years, as God was certainly a huge part of them, and they were definitely a blessing.
Now let me clarify that last statement; not everyone who has been to that deep dark wilderness place of illness will make such a statement – that their illness has been a blessing and that they wouldn’t change any part of it – and I must clarify that illness, with its life-changing side effects, and its forever changing scars (both physical, and emotion), sudden illness is not always perceived as a blessing to all. But for me, it was a tremendous one, resulting in a deeper bond with my friends and faith community, and most especially, an inseparable bond with my God.
When I was diagnosed with an arrhythmia disorder just prior to Thanksgiving of my Middler Year of seminary, the wilderness phase of my twenties began, and a true sense of soul searching ensued. A few months prior, a litany of “whys” also flowed from my mouth, as is perfectly normal, but a dear friend of mine boldly told me that asking why was pointless as the Lord of Hosts surely wouldn’t give me an answer to my persistent questions, no matter how many times I pleaded. As a type A personality, I constantly long for the definitive answer to all things, and yet, living a life of faith exists in direct contradiction to my personality; I must have faith in light of the unseen, I shall forever more have faith despite not always having all the answers I desire, but having the answers to a plethora of questions never uttered from these lips. All my “whys” were futile, as no answers were going to appear, not from clouds, out of a rock cleft in half, nor out of a fiery bush, nor out of an ocean split in half: why did this happen to me [in the middle of seminary]? why my heart? why? why? why?
And yet, one day, the questions ceased, and a peace came over me, as though everything was going to be ok in the midst of chaos in this wilderness period. While everything was not ok – (three) failed cardiac procedures, medication trials and finally two (yes, two, within twenty-four hours of each other no less) pacemaker implantations – God’s providence, presence and peace made everything completely ok. The thing with faith in God in the midst of a crisis is that it has the power to still even the most chaotic of storms.
The blessing comes in the oddest of places; I considered myself a Christian before, but felt my prayer life and understanding of the Holy Spirit, providence, grace and omnipotence strained and distanced at best prior to all this. But in the face of something unexpected, having to turn to God, not for answers but for strength, courage and purpose turned into a blessing. Over the course of the journey, I heard other testimonies of strength and courage, of all that God had done in the lives of others during tremendous tragedies and challenges, as well as the stories of sorrow and trauma, simply by opening myself and my own “blessing” up to others. God had blessed me, not with the “affliction” itself, but with the opportunity to be strong in the midst of it, to walk the path and stay the course, and what is more, to give me a purpose on the other side of it and the tools to stay the course.
The blessing also came in the form of a stronger faith, and the desire to seek God above reason; when life gets really tough, as mine did over the last two years, the only answer to the problem is God. Reason is nice, and yet, not sufficient; only God can explain why this happened, and only God can make put it to good use, as I have seen glimmers and whispers of so far.
Modern Christianity trivializes the term “blessed” far too often, perhaps even to the point of removing its meaning altogether; I’ve seen it on Twitter in reference to people not receiving speeding or parking tickets, to people getting an extra shift at work, or being spared a bad grade in a class. And while I believe that God cares about each and every one of His creation, the minutia of every day – grades, a speeding or parking ticket or not drinking spoiled milk out of the fridge are frankly not high on the Triune priority list for this weekend. #blessed has become a linguistic and theological cop out, a cheapening of our relationship with the Divine, when in reality even the smallest and greatest of things in our daily lives are blessed and we don’t even know it as modern day Christians because we fail to stop and take in the moving of a puffy white cloud or the first giggles of a tiny baby. These equally are as much a blessing as my illness – blessings from on high, and things to be joyfully received, recognized and embraced.
My blessing is that I get to take a breath each and every morning – a breath of fresh air with full lungs. These lungs for nearly two years didn’t expand, but rather coughed and felt congested, but now, each and every morning they fill with air as though they don’t know any better. For two years, I lie in bed each night with my palm pressed to my heart feeling its frantic and frustrated efforts to beat – between 120 and 160 beats/minute – and breathlessly wait for sleep to overtake me. And now, with a battery and two wires in its place, my heart beats as though it never knew anything different – slow and steady like the tortoise in Aesop’s Fable.
The blessing is not the steady heartbeat, nor the countless breaths of fresh air, but rather the testimony of God’s faithfulness throughout. It is easy to testify God’s faithfulness in the good times – that God has the provider of opportunity and courage, but it is even more difficult to attest to God’s omnipotence, faithfulness and providence when all has gone awry. God has taught me patience, to trust that things will happen not according to my timeline, but according to His, and that all will be well, but that it just might look different. These are the blessings. Blessings are the very things that are unexpected and do not come from our own hands but from Gods; they are shaped and molded and are the answers to our unasked questions; two years later, my “why” questions have still gone unanswered, but I have received so many different answers, responses and things in between from above that I never would have imagined. I have strayed down paths as a result of God’s leading that my “whys” wouldn’t have led me; the “whys” are distractions from the true purpose and leading of God, and from seeing the glimmers of God’s blessings in this muddy and murky world, and will always go unanswered.
#Blessings are not the blessings conceived of by God, but the bright and shiny things of this created by the material world; blessings come in the strangest and at times the most unconventional of ways, but are accompanied by God’s love, and over the last two years, I have felt nothing but God’s love. Because of that, I am able to continue to preach the Gospel, to sing, to care for others, to testify to the power and Glory of God, and even to jog! God is wondrous, miraculous and works in the most incredible of ways, blessing each and every one of us in odd and crazy ways throughout our lives. I should know, I’ve been there!
You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
My EKG in September of 2012. Suffice it to say, This is NOT normal! It looks much better now thanks to this…