This is one of those scenes in a movie that, if you look away, you miss the print on the bottom of the screen that announces “Two months earlier” and when you look back you are confused and wondering what is going on, or when is going on. So, eyes on the screen – “Two months earlier”. It was Thursday, May 2 and I have just come out of my sedative for a right heart cath. Michelle and I were sitting in my room talking when in enters my Cardiologist and my Pre-Transplant Coordinator. See, I had come in for a hospital stay that was predicted to be about seven days. This wasn’t unusual for me, just more of an inconvenience this time. See, living with heart failure had become my norm so I had to back out of both a memorial and a wedding in order to make the room in my schedule for this latest hospital stay.
Michelle and I knew something was up when both of the primary care people in my situation walked into my room. It got a little more serious when the doctor closed the sliding glass door and drew the curtain so as to be invisible to the outside world buzzing around in the halls of the hospital. I knew that life was about to change when my doctor returned and sat down. My doctor never sat down. He was always floating in on a breeze, giving us the news and then out like a flash, on to the next poor person that he was trying to save. Well, today, I was that next poor person and he sat down. He proceeded to tell us that my heart is very sick (no duh, tell us something we don’t know) and then he says the words, “It is time to move to transplant and I recommend that you are admitted to the hospital until we find a suitable heart.”
A hush falls over the room for what seems to be about an hour. I am sure it was only a few seconds, but it felt like the world stopped and all I could do was sit there and breathe. Yes, we had known that this conversation was going to happen at some point, but there is a big difference between knowing that, someday, a conversation might happen and the moment that this very same conversation actually happens. I can’t even tell you what I said, I honestly don’t remember. I am sure that Michelle asked some very appropriate and informative questions, because she is good in stressful situations like that. I am sure I probably just sat there and blankly gazed at my doctor’s mouth moving, understanding what he was saying, but not fully grasping the meaning of his words. And like that they were gone and Michelle and I were left alone to process what had just happened.
Again, this was a Thursday and I want to share with you my process for the next five days, culminating on Tuesday, May 7. I started off, as I normally do, feeling as if I had failed. For the last year I had been saying these words: “I know God has already healed me. I just don’t know if the healing will come through the fixing of my heart or a transplant.” I said that phrase so much because I was trying to convince myself. I believed, way down deep in that place into which others never enter, that only my heart being miraculously healed would translate into healing. A transplant meant defeat because I couldn’t keep my heart. A transplant would mean that my faith wasn’t strong enough to move mountains, that I didn’t even possess a mustard seed size of faith because no miracle for me. As this flooded over me I became not mad,.not sad, but disappointed in myself, which I quickly deflected to God, because this was all his doing or should I say this was all his lack of doing.
I wallowed in that for a while and then I moved to down right terror. I was about to experience the hardest thing that I had ever had to face in my entire life. Me, the guy who sometimes passes out when I give a blood sample for testing, was going to have to undergo a heart transplant. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t handle what I had to go through. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t man enough. I wasn’t going to survive. Looking back I now realize how important this stage was for me in this journey of the heart. What was I doing in the midst of this pity-party? I was doing exactly what each and every single person needs to be in order to truly experience the full, rich, awesome power of the Holy Spirit in life. I had to be broken and boy was I broken.
This is that reality that we don’t always tout when it comes to a fulfilled relationship with Jesus because it simply isn’t good marketing. In order for God to work in your life you must be broken. “Come to Jesus and be broken” just isn’t a great bumper sticker. We have tried to soften the blow a little bit and called all the broken to come to Jesus, but that requires an acknowledgement of your brokenness. What about those of us who, as followers of Jesus, experience new, deeply profound brokenness? Can we also come again? Can we return over and over again, whenever we experience brokenness or is there a cap on returning broken for followers of Jesus? Had I met my quota? Would there be some kind of penalty or higher interest payment because I had already experienced brokenness in my life that had resulted in a faith in Jesus? How many times can I return to this well before I am shut off? These were my questions.
I had to go back to the beginning, to Island #1 on the Journey to Be, back to the basics and confess that I needed something – healing, courage, strength – and that I couldn’t provide all of these things on my own. I was going to have a heart transplant. This is how God was going to heal me and the only way that I was going to make it is if I placed it all in his hands. I couldn’t do this on my own, I was way too weak. I am way too weak. I had to move from someone who knew he needed something that he couldn’t provide for himself, to someone who reaffirmed to himself that there was a God and that this very same God cared about little old him (Island #2 on the Journey to Be). Then I, a follower of Jesus, a pastor, had to be that someone who recommitted his life to the care and control of Jesus (Island #3).
It took me five days, but by Tuesday, May 7, like the famous “Footprints in the Sand” I was being carried by my God and not going through a heart transplant under my own power. From that day forward, it was no longer me who was experiencing this journey of the heart, it was me being carried, propped up, supported, guided, strengthened and nurtured by the precious gift of God’s Holy Spirit. From that day forward, God ministered to me in the midst of the questions, the fears, the procedures and the waiting. I heard that still small voice through it all saying to me, “You are mine. I got this.” Which is my language for “Fear not, for I am with thee”.