Monday, November 24, 2008

A Memorable Thanksgiving

I'm interrupting our series again, this time so I can participate in "At the Well." This week's writing prompt was one I simply couldn't resist.

Share with your readers a testimony of how God brought you thru a difficult time.
What is the most memorable Thanksgiving you have experienced?

That question could only bring one very remarkable Thanksgiving day to my mind.

(Photo from Stock.xchng by jvdberg)

I'd never done any Thanksgiving entertaining since the troubles began with my kids (two of them have special needs). But back on the Thanksgiving of 2004, we decided to have friends over to celebrate with us. We would have the big meal around noon, so I skipped breakfast in order to have a good appetite for the feast.

I also drank lots of my favorite caffeine source (Diet Dew, thank you very much). And, at that time I was taking a prescribed medication which, among other things, had a stimulant effect.

And I was under stress. Lots of stress.

The house was a mess. It always is, and at that point in their lives, my kids weren't able to be any real help. In fact, it was often quite the opposite.

I had just tackled the unenviable job of mopping the bathroom floor, the kids were acting up, and I was mad. Definitely not in the spirit of the day.

Worse yet, I was definitely not in The (Holy) Spirit. To be honest, back then I don't think The Spirit was in me. He was working on me, drawing me, but not in me yet. And a lot of His work could best be described as demolition. I had built lots of very thick walls, a veritable fortress of self protection around my heart, and every brick was held in place by the mortar of anger. Fear plastered every surface. Within my stronghold I stood fiercely, stubbornly alone, trusting no one, depending on no one, sharing my heart with no one. I put up a smiling front in public, but that's all it was. A charade that hid a multitude of self-destructive heart sins.

And on Thanksgiving Day, 2004, my heart said, "Enough is enough."

The pain struck as I simultaneously mopped the floor and yelled at one of my kids. And it was unlike any pain I had ever felt before.

Don't get me wrong; I'm very used to pain. I have some pretty serious back problems that have plagued me since I was a young child. And at first I thought this was my back...but it wasn't the same as any other back pain. And something in my inmost being knew that this was serious.

I tried adjusting my spine with a little technique that I use, but the pain only got worse. It sat heavy in between my shoulder blades, and it brought tears to my eyes...not because the pain was that severe (though it was pretty bad), but because my soul knew I was in a crisis, even if my mind hadn't come to grips with it yet.

"I have to go lie down. My back hurts." I made my way upstairs, but the pain made it a little hard to breathe.

My husband could sense that this was out of the ordinary, and he came up with me. Bless his heart, he just stayed there, never leaving me, while I worked through what was happening.

The pain isn't really in my spine. It's not that far back. It's in the center of my chest.

Don't be ridiculous, Betsy. You can't be having a heart attack. You don't have heart problems, and you aren't overweight, and you've never smoked, and you just turned 40 less than a month ago. There's no way this is a heart attack.

Lying down didn't lessen the pain. It should have, if it was merely back pain.

I finally took the risk of sounding like a fool. "John, it's not likely, really...but this could be my heart."

He hovered close while I told him all the reasons that it couldn't be my heart...and yet I think he knew I wasn't convinced.

The pain started traveling up toward my jaw.

"I hate to bother our doctor over his Thanksgiving dinner..." Our doctor was also a member of our church, and had been our Sunday School teacher for a while, but we weren't close friends or anything. I sure didn't want to make a fool out of myself and ruin his Thanksgiving in the process. But I did have his home phone number.

"Maybe we'd better call him just to see what he thinks."

John told the doctor what he knew, and I could tell the doctor wasn't thinking it was serious enough, so I took the phone and talked to him myself. He decided that, while it was likely to be nothing at all, I should get it checked out. He would call ahead to the hospital and tell them to expect me.

We called our would-be dinner guests and explained the situation, then bundled up three rowdy boys and drove toward the hospital.

My hands were white. Very, very white.

John checked me in at the emergency room. I just sat and worked on breathing. Actually, I was feeling a bit better now, and the color was returning to my hands.

My children ricocheted around the waiting area. Autism doesn't mix well with such settings. When the staff came to take me to triage, John decided he'd better take the kids home. I agreed.

So there I lay, in the little curtained-off triage section, alone. Sure, the staff came by sometimes, read the readouts from my monitors and talked to me. But much of the time I was all alone, except for the voices of the other sufferers beyond my curtain. One little child screamed and screamed and screamed. He had a gash on his jaw that would require stitches. I felt for him, and for his mom. I'd dealt with my share of screaming children in my life, and that sound wracked my nerves like nothing else.

Finally the cardiologist himself came in. "Your cardiac enzymes are elevated. That can only mean one thing. You've had a heart attack. And you keep having arrhythmias. We'll have to admit you to find out what's going on."

I called my husband and filled him in. Then I lay on my back and watched the lights on the ceiling go past as my gurney was wheeled along the hallway. It's a strange, vulnerable position to be in.

Alone.

Aloneness suited me just fine. It was simply the external match for my internal reality. If anyone else had been there, I would still have been alone. I wouldn't have known how to let anyone into my fortress if I'd wanted to. And why would I want to?

Later that day...or maybe the next, I can't remember...anyway, I was soon wheeled into the cardiac cath lab. A huge-bore needle went into a blood vessel in my thigh, and a camera-fitted catheter weaved its way into my heart. It found a blockage...not caused by plaque, but by a spasm of a coronary artery.

Stress-related, they told me. Go figure. The caffeine and the prescription medication and the empty stomach hadn't helped, either. They put in a stent, and I had to lie completely still, not moving at all, for 4 hours afterwards so the big hole they'd made in my blood vessel could be fully sealed.

That should have taken care of everything, but it didn't. My heart raced uncontrollably. Just to get up and walk to the bathroom sent it shooting up to 130 beats per minute. Nobody knew why.

I stayed in the hospital for 4 days while a new regimen of medication stabilized my heart. I'll have to take those for the rest of my life, most likely.

Four days is a long time to lie in a hospital, mostly alone, and think about your own mortality. And perhaps one of the most important realizations to come out of that time was this rather startling one:

I don't really want to die.

As if that weren't startling enough for someone who used to call God a "cosmic sadist" for refusing to strike me dead with lightning, the following realization followed close on its heels:

I want to live not for my own sake,
but for my family's.

I'm ashamed to say it, but that was probably the first truly unselfish thought I'd had in years and years.

It's hard to be unselfish when life is one endless stream of vicious attacks, and you think you're in it alone.

Fast-forward four years. Every Thanksgiving has been a reminder that I'm blessed to be alive. But writing this down has started some new thoughts for me.

How much of the change in my soul began with that incredible day when He first gave me back my desire to live?

I have more to be thankful for than just surviving. I'm thankful that God is teaching me to love Him, and to trust Him, and to love others, and to let others into my fortress. Better yet, he's teaching me to take a chisel and work with Him on pulling walls down altogether.

That's an awful lot to be thankful for!

-----------------------


This week's "At the Well" is being hosted by Laurie over at Women Taking a Stand. Be sure to drop by there to read her thoughts on this topic, and to find links to other participants' postings as well. Remember to leave comments if you were blessed!

11 comments:

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

What a story! A heart story, for sure. All the while, I'm worrying about your being alone in that hospital and recalling a time in my own journey that required a lengthy hospital stay. I would have been lost without the support of my family and friends. And while I am so sorry for your going through that season, I hear your thankfulness in your words.

It's obvious that God brought about a significant change in your heart and spirit during those days. A changed heart is always the most miraculous witness of God's transforming power and grace in our lives.

Thank you for sharing this incredible part of your journey with us.

peace~elaine

Laurie Ann said...

I cannot imagine! Bless your heart, literally. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your faith, and your will to live for your family's sake with us. God bless you!

LAURIE said...

Thank you for joining me over AT THE WELL discussing this weeks topic "having a grateful heart".

Wow. thank you for sharing your story with us today. Truly, that Thanksgiving was the year for a change of heart. Not only literally because of what you went thru with having a stint put in but I can see throughout your writing that God was working on your heart and making it stronger and stronger so you can serve Him. Praise God! - Have a blessed Thanksgiving! -Laurie

Joyfull said...

Thank you for sharing with us today. Thank you for sharing your pain and triumph through Christ that He can bring in any circumstance. Blessings to you this Thanksgiving!

Naomi said...

Thank you for sharing your story and your heart with us!

What a story you have!

Many blessings!
Naomi

Susan Storm Smith said...

Riveting story, I am thankful that you persisted in getting the "pain" checked. Thanks so much for sharing not just a great story, but a warning to all of us, that when something just seems wrong and doesn't go away--get it checked out.

hugs and blessings,
Susan

momstheword said...

Wow. I am so glad that you got that checked out. What a blessing He is. What I saw is that God showed you that He wanted you to give your heart to Him for safekeeping, and to give your heart to others without fear of rejection.

Thank you for sharing so openly. I am so thankful you are healthy today. Heart-healthy and soul-healthy. God bless!

Patty Wysong said...

I need a tissue. What a looooong four days that must have been! But God is so good! What a testimony, Betsy!
Huggles!

Yvonne said...

Wow... I've been flat on my back when God was trying to talk to me, not with a heart attack, but a compression fracture. You have to listen, don't you?

Thank you for sharing this.

Esthermay said...

"riveting. . . " good word.
Took me four settings to get it all in and I'm so glad I visited your blog tonight. Your mention of "heart medicine" in comments at my blog last week makes sense now. God works on us to show Himself to us in the only way he can sometimes -- I was only 31 when they told me my "enzymes were elevated...." scary scary time to not have His Spirit altogether welcome in my life too!
. . . I'm on Atenolol for life. But found a more blessed walk with Jesus because of it!
Your story needs to be seen by more people. You should send it to Guidepost.
... oh! and the reason I'm visiting tonight in the first place is so NOT important: I got tagged and now I tag you. See more here:
http://theheartofapastorswife.blogspot.com/2008/11/tag-youre-it.html
Play if you want -- I'm really not into these tags, but I played and just chose the most recent six followers of my blog. Sorry!
:-)
Have a Blessed Thanksgiving and Anniversary of Surrender to His Spirit. AMEN!
Kindest Thoughts,
~esthermay

Laurie M. said...

Betsy, I know this comment is a week late, but I only just "met" you, and was reading some of your older posts. I've got to say, all of this is so amazing. I don't remember Thanksgiving of 2004 because my husband of 7 years had just left me for another woman the month prior. That helplessness is what finally brought me to salvation in Christ, after years as a false Christian. There's much more to the story than that. So, while you were helpless, 40, and flat on your back, so was I, figuratively speaking.

(And not to leave you hanging, he divorced me after two years of my pleading with him and with God for his repentence. During that time I had developed a close network of Christian friends. One of them loved me enough to want to make me his wife. We were married in June of 2007.)

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin