A Journey of Hope, part 4: Ruth and Mary on New Life

This is the 4th and and final part of a four part story of two biblical women, pressing forward despite adversity and used by God despite being lowly outsiders.

For context on this series, including what we wrote this for and why I’m posting it to my blog, read the intro here.

Read Part 1 about Fear, Pain & Darkness here.

Read Part 2 about The Power of Friendship here.

Read Part 3 about Problems of Hunger and Homelessness here.

Redemption and New Life

Ruth Redeemed

by Libby Sutherland

I’ll be honest: I’d pretty much given up on my life amounting to much. What could I expect, after all?

I was a young widow from an unknown place and from an unknown family. An unwelcome foreigner here in Bethlehem. A beggar dependent upon the lost grains on the harvested field to even survive. I was a burden to my mother-in-law’s family — a stranger that others were beholden to provide for, to protect, to cover. To even have a guaranteed meal every day seemed out of my grasp. My footing was stumbling and uncertain, but all I could do was move forward, wondering how it would all work out.

And now — well, it’s all turned upside down.

That night on the threshing floor, as I reached to pull back the cloth from Boaz’s feet, I just prayed that he would in turn cover me with his garments, offer his protection and be my provision. What I could not know in that moment is that his God, Yahweh, had already spread favor over my life. That it was not only Boaz, but this living God who would be my guardian-redeemer. That his power would be felt in my life, that his care would bring things forth for my good.

The how of this miraculous reversal of station is like a blur. Surely, even in our scheming and plotting, Naomi and I never anticipated such favor. A family-redeemer to be my husband, to be Naomi’s son! A new family, a new dream to redeem the family and the dreams we had lost in Moab.

And a new baby son too. God gave me a son who will be a promise of our family’s continuation and survival. We named him Obed, for he will serve this God that has blessed our family.

This is what God has given me: I have a new family. I have a new purpose. I have a new position. I have a new name. I am “Mother.” I have been given a place. And I am no longer wandering.

And finally, the reason we celebrate Christmas. Libby writes Mary’s perspective on the birth of Jesus.

Mary (and the world) Redeemed

By Libby Sutherland

 What they tell you about having a baby is actually true: It’s all worth it in the end. The fear, the pain, the uncertainty that are all so overwhelming turn to relief and joy in just a few seconds.

A few months ago, all I could think was, How? How could I raise a baby, especially a baby king? How could Joseph believe me — and not leave me? How would I face my family? My town? My cousin Elizabeth kept telling me that God would follow through on his promises to bless me …

And he has! Even at the very last minute, when I was terrified I would just have to give birth on the street, Joseph banged on the door of the town inn, and the innkeeper said we could stay in his stable. He could probably tell things were about to get a little crazy! Everything is a blur, but somehow Joseph helped me off the donkey and into the hay. The pain was horrible, but then it was over, and the baby is healthy and strong! It definitely isn’t how I pictured it in my mind, but in the end, it doesn’t matter at all.

What matters is that my son is in my arms! The sweet smell of his wet head, his ruddy little face, his chin that trembles when he cries. He’s so beautiful. I didn’t know how this journey to Bethlehem would play out. But here we are, cushioned by a seat of hay. Instead of all my aunts and midwives surrounding me, there are a lot of cows and donkeys! But God made sure we would be safe.

There’s a feed trough in the corner that just might work for a little bed once Joseph helps me wrap Jesus up in our spare pieces of cloth. Look at my husband, grinning so sweetly at the baby! God has given him this son too. We really are a family now.

How did I ever doubt God’s goodness?

So this is how it feels to be a mother! I want so much for this baby Messiah. I want better than this barn. I want to keep him safe, make him happy, give him anything he wants or needs. But as much as I want to give him, I keep remembering the angel’s message: That Jesus is the one who will give us our freedom back. What can I give him that’s worth more than that?

I’m going to be his mother, but someday Jesus will be my king. He’ll set things right and bring justice to all of Abraham’s family line! He’ll fix our broken land. He’ll free us from our oppressors, and things will be as they should be. Everything I do to take care of him will be nothing compared to everything he will do for all of my people. I can’t wait to see what Jesus is going to do. Who he is going to be.

A few months ago, I was a no-name girl from a poor town, from a no-name family — and yet, God invited ME to be part of this bigger story. He made sure I would be safe. He’s given me favor and a home. A new name, a new family, and a new purpose for my life! But most of all, he’s given me a son who is “God with us.”

Now I know for sure that God is with me. Because I’m looking at his face. And I am no longer wondering.

Merry Christmas everybody!

A Journey of Hope, part 3: Ruth and Mary on Hunger and Homelessness

This is part 3 of 4 of the story of 2 women, pressing forward despite adversity and used by God despite being lowly outsiders.

For context on this series, including what we wrote this for and why I’m posting it to my blog, read the intro here.

Read Part 1 about Fear, Pain & Darkness here.

Read Part 2 about The Power of Friendship here.

 

Encountering Problems: Hunger and Homelessness

Ruth on Hunger

by BeccyJoy 

We were so hungry that we stopped feeling hungry. Hunger was just our normal state. But I was growing dizzy and faint, and judging by the way Naomi kept stumbling into me, she was faring worse.

When we finally came upon a field, I thought I was seeing a mirage. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. The whole corner of the field was filled with un-raked grain, which seemed to be free for the taking.

I thought either the reapers weren’t good at their jobs, or they would soon be returning to finish. Naomi assured me that they left it for us.

The journey must have affected Naomi’s mind. She was delirious. How could they have left this grain for us? They could not have known we were coming.

Naomi explained the harvesters were following the Lord Almighty’s law. The Lord commanded His people to leave a corner of their field partially un-harvested for people like us: the foreigners, the widows, and orphans. Failure to obey this law is a punishable offense.

A sense of awe and gratitude overtook me. I had always thought the laws of the land were to protect the rich and important people and punish the weak and powerless. Who was this God who cared if I lived or died? Who was I that God would not let someone like me wither away?

I started gathering grain among the sheaves behind the harvesters. The owner of the field, Boaz, kept glancing in my direction. He seemed to be asking about me. And then he seemed to be walking toward me.

As he approached, my heart was pounding. I was worried he would tell me it was time to find a new field … that I had taken enough from him.

His kind voice and his smile cut through my anxiety. “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field, and don’t go away from here. I won’t let my men lay a hand on you!”

At this, I bowed down with my face to the ground. I didn’t understand why I had found such favor in his eyes or why he even noticed me at all — a lowly foreigner.

His generosity didn’t stop there. He shared his bread and water and sent me back to Naomi with more than enough food for both of us.

Here’s Jill again with Mary’s perspective.

Mary on Housing (or the lack thereof)

by Jill Hicks

Breathe in. Breathe out. Elizabeth said it can help with the pains.

I’m so tired. And everything hurts. I wish the angel would come back and remind me of how excited I used to feel. I wish I could see God to know for sure that he is here with me.

But I have been feeling this little glimmer of hope since we started out on our journey. Maybe having the baby all the way down in Bethlehem means something I don’t completely understand. At least it’s a little bit nicer here than our poor little Nazareth!

I can’t wait to see the baby’s face. Will he look like me? Will he look like … God? That doesn’t even make sense.

But right now the pains are getting stronger, and so close together! And we can’t find anywhere to stay. All of these people from Joseph’s family line are here … plus crowds of people we don’t even know … and every place is totally full.

It’s mostly my fault we’re so late to Bethlehem. We had to go so slow the whole time. Riding has been awful. But my ankles are so swollen, it hurts to walk. And it seemed like we had to stop the donkey every ten minutes so I could go to the bathroom…!

It’s so hard to breathe. I can tell it’s not going to be much longer. Why won’t anybody just let us in so I can lie down for a minute?

Maybe Joseph’s relatives heard all the rumors. Maybe they don’t want to let us in. I wish God would just send one more angel to one more house so that they’ll understand!

But there haven’t been any more angel visits since the beginning. And God didn’t even tell my parents what was going on. They’ve been so embarrassed. Everybody whispered about me at the market for months. I wish I didn’t feel so alone!

At least Adonai gave Joseph back to me. I remember the look on his face when I came back from Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house and told him I was pregnant. He was so crushed, and he just left, and I cried myself to sleep. But then he came back and said an angel had visited him too. He grabbed my hand. And all the hope came back, and I knew God had given the baby and me somebody to take care of us after all.

But Joseph has had a really hard time. People treated him strangely when he brought over their woodworking orders. Then he was working so hard on our little house, but the Roman soldiers came through town with their big decree that everybody had to go back to their towns of origin for this huge census. Joseph is one of King David’s descendants, so we had to travel all the way here to David’s town, Bethlehem. And who knows how long we’ll have to stay? I was just getting into the whole nesting thing … and now I can’t even be at home to deliver my own baby!

Where AM I going to deliver this baby??

Why is everything happening this way? The angel said I was blessed, but none of this feels like blessing. Alone in a strange town, far away from my own home. None of my aunts and cousins are here to help me. No midwives. And just look at Joseph. He looks terrified. He’s never caught a baby! Men don’t do birth-y things!

It’s getting dark. And I can’t breathe. This baby wants to come now. If Yahweh would just open up a place for us to go! I thought he promised to take care of me …

At this point I don’t even care if I have this baby in a barn, this hurts so bad! Is God here with us at all??

To be continued…

Tomorrow (Christmas Day): Redemption and New Life

A Journey of Hope, part 2: Ruth and Mary on The Power of Friendship

This is part 2 of 4 of the story of 2 women, pressing forward despite adversity and used by God despite being lowly outsiders.

For context on this series, including what we wrote this for and why I’m posting it to my blog, read the intro here.

Read Part 1 about Fear, Pain & Darkness here.

 

The Power of Friendship

Ruth & Naomi (based on Ruth chapter 2)

by BeccyJoy

I had nothing. Lord knows Naomi had nothing. But somehow, together we had something. It didn’t make any sense; we were like two empty vessels that somehow filled each other up.

I don’t blame Orpah for staying in Moab. Naomi blessed us both to return to our mother’s house. We had a chance of starting over. We’d find new husbands, live in new homes, and maybe have children. Orpah was smart to go home, but I just could not. As terrifying as it was to leave my homeland with no plan or prospects, the thought of losing Naomi was worse.

Naomi tried to reason with me by telling me she was too old to provide me with a husband, but reason isn’t the basis of our friendship. There is no logic to the depths of my affection for Naomi. Our pain, our joys and our lives were braided together with a love that was so strong, I knew that without her, I would be lost and incomplete. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates me from Naomi!

Naomi told me that her God had made her life bitter, and yet, I could see that she had a small glimmer of hope that He would provide for us. It was that hope that drew me to Naomi, and it was that hope that drew me to her God. That tiny glimmer of hope was our guide all the way to Bethlehem.

Our dirty feet bled and our stomachs groaned. Naomi was old, and I feared the journey would take more out of her than she had. We walked and walked. We shared stories — and silences. We sang and prayed. We cried and reminisced. We laughed and hoped. We walked and walked and walked.

Jill wrote this next piece on Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary & Elizabeth

by Jill Hicks

I knew visiting Elizabeth would be the right thing to do!

On the way here, to her and Zechariah’s house, I was thinking, maybe all of this was a dream after all. But I’ve been counting the days since I saw the angel, and I’ve noticed things. I feel so tired all the time. And I threw up again this morning. And the pain that usually comes every month … didn’t.

I have all the signs. I really am going to have a baby!

And Elizabeth knew it too! I hadn’t even told her I was pregnant, but she just knew.

I found out that an angel visited Zechariah, six months ago. But at first he didn’t believe Elizabeth would get pregnant, so the angel took away his voice until their baby is born. I feel bad for him, but he seems pretty upbeat most of the time.

Oh, Adonai, thank you that Elizabeth understands me! It’s so funny. She’s so old, and I’m so young. Technically, neither of us should have even been able to get pregnant. But Yahweh gave us both a baby anyway. We were two empty vessels that have been filled up.

I’ve got to say, it’s so nice having somebody to talk to about all this. Zechariah rolls his eyes at all of our chattering sometimes. But he doesn’t say anything. Because he can’t!

I feel so happy for Elizabeth. Everyone thought she would die without any children. But now she’s going to have a son! She told me that she used to feel like Sarah in the old stories: too old to have children. Or like Naomi, whose first sons died. But all that’s changed now. Sarah, Naomi, Elizabeth. God was kind to all of them eventually!

Elizabeth said that as soon as she saw me at the door, the baby inside her jumped around and kicked for joy. When she said that, I felt that crazy alive feeling again, just like when the angel came to see me. And suddenly, I just knew. I felt like it really was meant to be! I knew that God actually did choose me, for whatever reason. And that he is here with me.

I’m still scared, but now I feel like things will be all right.

I just hope I can remember that when I see Joseph again.

To Be Continued…

Tomorrow: Ruth and Mary are Hungry and Homeless.

A Journey of Hope, part 1: Ruth and Mary on Fear and Darkness

This is part 1 of 4 of the story of two biblical women, pressing forward despite adversity and used by God despite being lowly outsiders. I plan to post once a day for the three remaining days until Christmas and final post on Christmas.

For context on this series, including what we wrote this for and why I’m posting it to my blog, read the intro here.

FEAR, PAIN, DARKNESS

Ruth’s sadness about Mahlon’s death  (based on Ruth chapter 1)

by BeccyJoy

When Mahlon and his family moved to town, there was a spark of something in them that drew me in. They were different, and their God, Adonai, seemed different. They had a hope that was more foreign to me than any of their strange family traditions.

They welcomed me into their family, and their strange ways began to feel right to me. Before I married Mahlon I was just a poor Moabite girl, but afterwards, life felt full.

When Mahlon’s father Elimelech died, a deep sadness fell over our entire family.

When Mahlon’s brother, Kilion died, I watched his mother Naomi weep bitter tears. The chilling emptiness inside of me grew more vast.

When I lost my Mahlon, I wept until I thought my tears had run dry, and then I wept more. I mourned the loss of Mahlon’s life, but also the loss of my own life.

I was a widow.

I was a nobody.  

I had nothing.

If the hunger didn’t kill me, I thought my grief might. My hope to have children and a legacy was dwindling.

With her husband and two sons gone, Naomi sank into a deep and bitter despair. I was ashamed that I had nothing to offer her. She had made me feel more at home than I had ever felt in my own mother’s home and given me everything she had to give. She was preparing to return to her homeland, Bethlehem.

She begged Kilion’s wife, Orpah, and me to go home to Moab and build a new life for ourselves. Orpah heeded her pleas. I would not. The harder Naomi pushed me away, the harder I clung to her. “Please! Go to Moab. Your life isn’t over like mine,” she cried.

Leave Naomi to die alone? Never! Return to Moab? My “home”? No! Moab had nothing to offer me. Moab was as barren as I was.

Fearful, hungry, tired, and poor, Naomi and I set out together for Bethlehem.

My friend Jill wrote this next piece from Mary’s perspective.

Mary’s Unexpected Pregnancy

by Jill Hicks

I can’t believe it. But I DO believe it. It wasn’t a dream. My head still hurts when I think about the light.

I’ve never seen an angel before, but I heard about them from the old stories. And it was like … so much white, but every color too. It burned into my eyes and sort of blazed through my body. I felt more alive, more real, than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.

I’ve never even been with a man. But the angel said I’m going to have a baby anyway. And it’s not just any baby. It’s a baby Messiah!

What is Joseph going to think?

I’ve loved Joseph from the beginning. The way he makes all those beautiful things out of plain old wood. And the way he nervously smiled at me the first time we talked. It made me laugh when I saw his awkward, silly grin. Even though he’s a lot older, I almost took his hand first. He’s just so cute when he’s nervous!

Oh, no. Oh, no … He’s going to think I slept with somebody else! What if he breaks our engagement? I’ll have nothing! There’ll be nobody to take care of me and the baby. No food. No home! Where will I go? I’ll lose everything!

I think I’m going to throw up.

Deep breath, Mary. He hasn’t broken up with you yet.

But I know he’s going to! He wants to do the right thing. He always follows the laws. Joseph could easily humiliate me and my family in front of the whole town. How will he ever believe that I’m pregnant with the actual Messiah? He already thinks I’m a little dramatic!

[growing excited again] Oh my goodness, the Messiah! I can’t believe it. I’ve heard all the stories. That Yahweh’s Messiah-king would come someday. But I thought he’d just come marching in from somewhere and set us all free from the Roman soldiers. That’s what the elders and the priests always say.

But instead, he’s going to be a little baby first! And Adonai chose ME to take care of him.

On the other hand, I’m so young. I always forget things at the market … it’s not like I can teach him to read … and I can’t even remember to feed my goat half the time! How am I ever going to take care of a baby Messiah?

Maybe I’m the wrong person to do this! I know Yahweh isn’t supposed to make mistakes, but maybe this is all wrong. Maybe he made a mistake choosing me. Does that happen?

No, the angel said it was me who was favored. He said that God was with me. And I believed him. There’s no going back.

I’m really scared. If I’m going to do this thing, I need somewhere to go. I need God to give me someone who will believe me … and I need to know that this isn’t a mistake.

I know what I’ll do. The angel said my older cousin Elizabeth was pregnant too. I’ll go visit her and help her with her baby. And I know Elizabeth will help me work through all this stuff in my brain. Maybe she’ll know if I’m out of my mind.

Tomorrow: Ruth and Mary on the power of friendship.

Merry Advent!

Advent Series Intro: Ruth and Mary, A Journey of Hope

In high school, I had an assignment in art class to research and write a paper on a famous painter.

In Spanish class I had an assignment to write about a famous Spaniard.

In creative writing class I had an opportunity to get extra credit for anything I wrote outside of that class.

I wrote one paper about a famous Spanish artist and got credit for it in all three classes. Triple play! Does that make me lazy or efficient? I’m still not sure… probably both.

A few weeks ago I started an Advent “series” on my blog, which consisted of one post. Now that Advent is coming to an end, I was thinking about writing something more about our tea/bath/Richard Roar Advent experience. Then I realized I could be more lazy and more efficient by posting something I already wrote for another purpose.

My church always puts on a special Christmas service, which is a collaboration between many types of artists; writers, actors, musicians, set/graphic designers, and more. Somehow it always comes together in a beautiful, meaningful, creative collage type of way. Probably something to do with our creative, visionary pastors and church staff.

This year, as a culmination of our church’s series linking Ruth (old testament ancestor of Jesus) to Mary (mother of Jesus), the Christmas service was a dramatic retelling of the journey these two women took to Bethlehem. I had the opportunity to write a few monologues from Ruth’s point of view.

I can’t share with you the whole experience of the service here on my blog as there was a (hauntingly beautiful) choir, a string section, comic relief videos, fabulous actresses  that brought the characters to life, a beautiful set, and several weeks of sermons (available here) that paved the way.

But I can bring you the story I wrote with a few friends about Mary and her foreshadow Ruth.

There are four parts, and four days until Christmas (including Christmas), so come back here for the next four days if you’d like to take this journey of fear, loss, hope, waiting, pressing on despite adversity, and (spoiler alert) redemption.

Merry Advent,

BeccyJoy

Craving a Meaningful Holiday Season? Celebrate Advent with Me.

It’s no secret to my friends and family that I had a hard time with my pregnancies. Really hard.  The nausea, aching, bloating, migraines, puking, pains, fears, insomnia, heaviness, hormones and lethargy were straight out of a horror movie that no one would ever choose to make or watch.

The only thing that kept me going was that the waiting was fused with hope. With every shred of my being, I leaned into hope. Hope of feeling better, hope of a new baby, and hope that something bigger, and better and more beautiful was unfolding. If I didn’t hope, the misery of those months would have swallowed me up.

It occurred to me that Advent is about a pregnancy. The world was broken and all wrong, and nauseating, and Mary was pregnant with the One who was going to start fixing it.

Advent is about waiting expectantly and choosing to hope, and not despair, no matter how bad things get.

Last weekend I had to leave my friend’s birthday party so I could take care of a car repair that started small, and morphed into a 2 day ordeal. I kept trying to drive away, only to have to turn back because the steering wheel was still shaking, then the alignment was off, and then there was a new “thunk” sound.

It seemed like they were creating or uncovering more problems with each problem they fixed. I paced around the store checking the time on my phone every couple of minutes and rethinking our Christmas budget.

Advent is also about pacing around the car repair shop, breathing in motor oil fumes and missing a party. It turns out, life is still broken. There is still sickness, and broken cars, and dashed hopes, and fractured relationships, and injustice.

Life presents ample opportunities to choose to hope that there is something bigger and better and more beautiful unfolding.

This year, my husband and I decided to celebrate Advent. We want to experience more of God in those moments of waiting and longing for things like love and light to make headway.

If anyone else is craving a meaningful holiday season, you are invited to join us in an advent experience. Here are some ideas on how to participate:

  1. Get 24 of something you enjoy, one for each day of Advent. My husband is participating in something called “Beer Advent” in which he and seventy some others ordered craft beers from all over the world. They mixed and matched the bottles from each case so that each person has one of each variety to drink on each day of Advent.12784_636597779785877_3348350022685696182_nThe idea is to take time, slow down, and enjoy a beverage while thinking about what it means that Jesus came into our broken world. If I drank that many beers, I’d probably have a beer belly by Christmas, so I’m opting for a cup of hot tea and a bubble bath every evening. Really, anything would work- chocolate, candles, caramels, or even pickles if that sounds good. The key is that it is something you will look forward to. This is a celebration, not a punishment.
  2. Read a book (or booklet, or blog post, or scripture) about Advent, like this one by Richard Rohr. Nothing too thick or intense, just something that will guide you in thinking and talking about what Advent means for you today.
  3. Come back here and connect with us. Share your Advent thoughts, revelations, experiences, joys and hopes. The more, the merrier.

I will do my best to post a few updates on my Advent experience. Or if you want to share, I am open to a guest poster on this topic, just contact me on my “About Page” to be considered.

Merry Advent,

Beccyjoy

p.s. If you are not into church or God, or Christmas, you are welcome to participate in a way that makes sense to you and your thoughts are also welcomed and valued in this discussion.

A Change of Heart

     My dad’s heart condition is complicated, to say the least. Between serious rhythm problems that don’t respond well to treatment, Marfan Syndrome, and a complex array of powerful medications, most cardiologists don’t want to touch him with a 10 foot pole. His lack of response to treatments has stumped even the world’s foremost heart experts. He had a powerful experience this month which he said made him feel like a new person.

     If you know my dad, you know that he is quite understated. When he describes feeling “uncomfortable” you can be assured that he likely describing the worst discomfort imaginable. When he says that the previous ablation procedures did not have optimal results, he’s leaving out the part about all 6 ½ feet of him toppling to the dining room floor when his heart spontaneously stopped, just months after the “not-so-successful” procedure (this incident was several years ago, no need to send a card). It was this very procedure, that he was scheduled to have for the 4thtime this month. It was this very procedure that made all of the difference. At my church, during lent, we are encouraged to ask God for something BIG. I decided to ask for my dad’s heart rhythm problems to resolve, but I didn’t really expect any of this to happen.

 
Here’s his story (written by my Dad, shared with permission, edited by me (to make it shorter for this blog):
Background info: For the past 30 years I have struggled with episodes of atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rate). Since my 20’s I have had hundreds of episodes of a-fib.  Atrial fibrillation is a fairly common problem and many people are not even aware that their hearts are out of rhythm. I have more severe version of the disorder and always know the moment my heart goes out of rhythm and the moment it goes back into a normal beat, called sinus rhythm. The treatments for a-fib include medication, electrocardioversion, and cardiac ablations. I have experienced all of these treatments.
           I have tried many drugs to control my rhythm. I have had over 50 electrocardioversions (electrical shock to the heart to cause it to convert to a normal rhythm). The most complex treatment is called a cardiac ablation. Ablations involve freezing or burning heart tissue in order to repair the electrical “wiring” of the heart. This typically is a 6-10 hour procedure. I had this done in 1998, 2003, 2006, and 2013. My story centers on the ablation I had done in March of 2013.  The various treatments provided some relief. I would sometime go for weeks or months in normal rhythm, but eventually my old nemesis would return with a vengeance and I would feel worse than ever.  One of the medications worked very well for me. It is called Amiodarone and it is the heavy artillery in the arsenal of heart medications. Amiodarone is usually used as a last resort because it brings with it some potential serious side effects including thyroid, lung, kidney, and liver damage.  I took it for several years (2009-2012) and it was very effective at preventing afib. The downside was that I began developing tremors in my hands, and thyroid problems.
Last August a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic advised me to discontinue Amiodarone. He said I was too young to be on such a powerful medication. Because it had worked so well, I reluctantly agreed to discontinue the drug.  I resigned myself to the probability that my a-fib woes would soon return. Sure enough, my irregular rhythm returned on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Through the years my local cardiologist has become a trusted friend. He would usually tell me not to worry because we had some treatment options. On this visit he looked over my charts with a somber expression. He looked at me and said, “We don’t have many options.”   I grabbed at the glimmer of hope and asked him what the options were. He replied, “We don’t have any options left. Mayo took you off the only drug that ever worked and they will need to come up with a plan. I will continue to see you as a patient if and when the Mayo clinic can come up with a treatment that keeps you in rhythm for several months.” My heart sank.
            The first plan of action was a different rhythm drug called “Tikoysyn.” As much as I hate missing another break (went to Rochester over Thanksgiving), I hate missing school more, so I scheduled a 3 day hospital stay during Christmas break. I felt some hope that the plan would work. I looked forward to getting relief from the incessant pounding of my heart that had been going on for so long. Each school day had become a struggle. I was becoming a cranky old teacher and colleague and husband and dad. That is not my nature and I did not like it at all.
            After 3 days in the hospital with this new medication, my heart was still bouncing around. They tried to shock it back into rhythm three times, but to no avail. The specialists came into my room and told me that Tikosyn was not going to work for me. Then the cardiologist in charge looked at me and asked, “What do you want to do now?”  Many thoughts flashed through my mind.  I wanted to have my Christmas break back, I wanted to quit, I wanted to be healed, I wanted to retire, I wanted to go home and sit in my basement. I wanted another plan.  I asked him what he would do if he were me. He suggested we try another ablation procedure. Remember that I had already had 3 of them without much success. 
          I visited with my primary care physician who I have been seeing for 25 years. He never seemed too enthused about my cardiac ablations and I thought that he might just tell me to forget about it.  I had decided that I would do whatever he suggested. If it meant just living with the rhythm problem, then so be it. Surprisingly, he told me to go for it.
          My local cardiologist also thought that I should try another ablation. He added that he doubted it would work, but felt it was the next logical step. I went ahead and scheduled the appointment for the Wednesday of Spring Break (of course – I didn’t want to miss school).  So I plodded through January, February, and the first weeks of March with the old ticker galloping away.  I know that my family has faithfully prayed for my recovery over the years, but after all of these years my hopes weren’t high.
Spring Break 2013: As the appointment date drew near, I was having some serious doubts about going through with another ablation.  The trip to Rochester on Tuesday morning was terrible.  The highway was covered with several inches of solid ice.  A strong NW wind was causing blowing and drifting across the road. I seriously thought about turning around, but I didn’t want to go back over what we had already been through.  I kept hoping we would “drive out of it” but that was not the case.  It was one of the worst drives I have ever made — and I have driven on some bad roads over the years. So about that time my stress level and heart rate were both off the charts.  We were listening to Christian radio while we drove and heard a verse that really struck me. Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” I didn’t know the context until later, but Moses said that to the Israelites as they stood by the Red Sea with the Egyptian army bearing down on them.  I more needed the Lord to drive, but anyway, we pushed on and eventually reached the Mayo Clinic.
          After a battery of tests, I met with a doctor for a consultation about the procedure. During the consultation the doctor explained everything that can possibly go wrong during the procedure and then gave me a consent form to sign. The list of possible complications is long and I was getting more and more wary of going through with it, especially since I was quite certain it would be unsuccessful. I’m not sure why, but I did sign the consent form. After surviving the car ride, I figured this wouldn’t be a big deal.
      The next day, my alarm went off at 4:30 AM and we went to the hospital. I had been off the medication that keeps my heart slowed to a reasonable rate for a couple of days. As a result my rate had been racing at 160-170 beats per minute for the past day and I was feeling desperate for some relief. The surgery preparation involves a lot of questions, poking, shaving, questions, and more poking. I was eventually carted off to a holding area where I was to wait to be wheeled to the OR
       As I was lying waiting and waiting for my surgery to begin mind began wandering. I thought about how this was a total waste of time and money. I thought about my family and friends that had been praying for me over the years. I thought about my mother and how many times she had been at the hospital or at home waiting for news about my surgeries. Of course, I thought about my wife and how she has always been there for me. Then I thought about myself and how I had not been able to pray about this affliction for a long time. I was discouraged to the point of being sure that God would not help me with atrial fibrillation.  I thought of the verse that I had heard on the Radio,” The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”  I couldn’t think of a prayer to pray, so the idea that maybe I should recite some good old-fashioned Lutheran liturgy. Ironically, the only one that I could think of was “Create in me a clean heart O Lord”… and I couldn’t remember the rest! So I repeated that short line many times, not even realizing that it was referencing my heart. I was thinking, “Lord, I’ve got nothing, I can’t even pray about this, I don’t want to do this, if you would do something – I would be surprised.”  About that time they did find me and took me to the procedure room. Soon after that I drifted off to sleep while the team went to work on me.
          Seven hours later I began to come to again.  People were unhooking equipment and putting things away and asking me how I was doing. Even though I was still very out of it, I could feel that my heart was in the glorious sinus rhythm that I hadn’t felt for three and half months. I was thankful, but truthfully doubtful that it would last.
Later that day, the doctor who performed the ablation stopped in my room. He said that the ablation went much better than he expected and that he thought it would hold (not the type of report I’m accustomed to).  In my 2006 ablation the doctor found a problem area that he did not want to treat too aggressively. He thought that the area would probably give me problems and within two months I went back into a-fib.
The heart is controlled by a complex electrical system. There are no wires. Instead, the heart tissue itself conducts electrical impulses.  For some reason, the electrical impulses sometimes go wild and cause the heart to quiver instead of beat. If that happens in the upper chambers it is called atrial fibrillation because the upper chambers are called “atria”. That is my issue. It is generally not life threatening, but it does stress the heart and causes unpleasant side effects such as fatigue and discomfort. If the lower chambers called, “ventricles” begin to fibrillate, then that is often fatal because the blood does not go anywhere. The problem area discovered in 2006 was with a large blood vessel called the superior vena cava or SVC. The SVC brings blood to the right side of the heart from the upper part of the body. The SVC does not usually cause rhythm problems. In fact the doctor said that only about 1 in 100 cases involve the SVC.  In 2006 the doctor found the problem area on the SVC, but could not do anything with it because it was adjacent to the phrenic nerve, which controls the diaphragm. He was fairly certain that if he burned the heart tissue, he would damage the phenic nerve and possibly paralyze the diaphragm.  As a result, he left it alone.
I asked the doctor about the phrenic nerve and the heart tissue.  He said that the nerve was not near the problem area this time. When I asked how that could be said he’d consulted with my previous surgeon and the two of them “could not give a reason for it.”  Both doctors are extremely renowned electrophysiologists who do hundreds of cardiac ablation procedures each year, and they were baffled! I thought back to the ancient passage written by King David that was on my mind before the procedure.  Now, I admit to being a science guy. My first reaction is to doubt things, however, let’s look at the passage in Psalms.
 
Psalm 51:10 – 11 Create in me a clean heart O Lord, and Renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me
Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and grant me your free Spirit.
 
This was a life changing experience for me. The mind, body, spirit connection was all evident, and I sense a renewal in all three of those areas in my life. So, despite having a whopper of a cold, my heart remains in sinus (normal) rhythm. Without a doubt, this was the best Spring break of my life.