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Easing Back In- April 20, 2009

August 26, 2009

I hesitate to share this, though I’ve alluded to it. I’m a minister. My hesitancy is that in my line of work, while folks love to hear bits and pieces of my personal life, they still get very uncomfortable when my humanity is front and center. Some even feel completely devastated when I admit to getting really angry or scared. Thus, the hesitancy to share that here. Here, I can just be me, learning to live again after having my chest sawed open unexpectedly, almost dying and, crying for weeks and not remembering where to put my toothbrush, much less what I did last week. But there. I said it.

I admit to you, my heart sisters, that I’ve had serious doubts that I could ever go back. It wasn’t so much about a shaking of my personal faith as it has been about my awareness that I can’t not be real anymore and I frankly don’t know how to do that in that arena.

I’ve wondered if I’m not just too sensitive for my chosen line of work. I allow my feelings to get hurt. I still get angry. I feel let down often. And church members tend to play out their own unhealed family dynamics at their church, as do their ministers. I’m often the mean older sister, the little sister, the parent, the child, catching the wrath of their subconscious, unexamined emotions. In the past, I smiled right through it, pretending I felt no pain. Praying, forgiving and never admitting how painful the process.

I think it’s not so much the emotions we feel that hurt our hearts, but the ones we try to contain and not feel, the ones we try to deny.

I went to church yesterday. First time back. Just sat on the front row. Folks were incredibly kind and gentle with their hugs. But for many, it was about them. How much they needed to hear my sermons. I know they meant that as a compliment. I could only hear it as selfishness. take, take take…Then there were all the “You look so good” comments.” Naturally, I took that to mean, “You’re really fine. Why aren’t you back working for us again full time (translate 70 hours a week)?”

I met a woman new to the church while I’ve been out, who brought dinner to our home shortly after I came home from the hospital. My family tells me she came in to my room, sat in a chair by my bed, played the guitar and sang to me. I don’t remember that or ever seeing her before. I admitted that to her but told her I was glad to meet her. No hiding from the truth, at least in that moment.

All these insane and so typically ordinary thoughts running through my still fuzzy mind, yet today, I spent an hour or so working on “church stuff.” I’ve even been contemplating what I’ll say when I do finally stand back on that stage with a microphone headset on. This different me, the one without formed wings yet, with all her legs gone, still mostly hanging out in my safe cocoon.

Am I finding out how despite myself? Am I figuring how to live differently despite my claiming I can’t? Am I finding a balance between loving them and loving me? Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I think all these years, I’ve been putting the cart before the horse. This seeming traumatic near death experience may be teaching me what that verse really means. I thought I knew what it meant to love oneself. I thought I knew what it meant to love another.

This past year was my life was emotionally traumatic in general, enough to bring most anyone to their knees. Yet, I just plowed my way through it until my body literally refused to go on.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back full time, not for sure I’ll go back at all. I’m not sure I ever really want to be completely symptom free. This wonderful scarred and battered body of mine is the voice of sanity for me, reminding me that when I’m thinking, “This breaks my heart,” my heart is literally breaking and I better pay attention to how I feel, not just how everyone is feeling around me, or how everyone thinks I ought to feel.

Twenty seven years ago today, I had a baby boy that was stillborn. I sucked it up and went back to my then nursing job like nothing major had just happened. Two days after that, my favorite aunt died. None of my family came to my baby’s funeral as they all were at my aunt’s. Even my mother, “Are you sure you don’t need me to be there?” “Of course not. I’m fine.” I lied to her. Now, I say all that not to have a self pity party, but just to remind myself that this pattern of mine to deny my own pain has been a lifelong pattern for me. No wonder the arteries to my heart got all clogged up!

On Wednesday, I see my cardiologist. I now have a typed list of very specific questions for him. I’m far more educated than a few weeks ago (thanks in large part to all of you). I will demand his time and attention if he doesn’t offer it freely ($279 worth of freely, that is). I have another cardiologist selected if I don’t feel heard. I suspect I will though. When I saw him the last time before drugs, surgery and such which left me barely present, I wasn’t even thinking that my heart was worth paying attention to. Why would he then?

Gandhi said we have to be the change we wish to see. Our brand of spirituality is what’s called “new thought.” We teach about thinking positive and being that change. But thinking positive can be counterproductive when it means denial of self.

I believe now that success often looks like failure. Wholeness often looks like brokenness. Wellness often looks like illness. And a happy, really healthy spiritual heart often cries a lot. I believe hearts are made stronger by becoming weaker, held together with grafts and stents and drugs. Just as an EKG often doesn’t show the truth, a smile doesn’t either.

They tell me I have the arteries of an eighty year old (I’m 52). If that’s so, I better start cutting myself a little slack. I’m not wearing a sign that says, “My arteries are clogged, I had bypass surgery, I feel shaky and weak and unsure. I get hurt easily, so please be nice to me.” I’m going to have to say what needs to be said, to whoever needs to hear it, out loud. Maybe over and over. I’ve especially got to say it when I look in the mirror, “Please be kind. My heart is precious.”

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