Several years ago I got up in the middle of one night and fainted in the bathroom, knocking a few tiles off our shower wall where my head hit and putting a gash in my head in the process. (Yes — insert joke/comment here about my head being harder than ceramic tile!) Then about 2-1/2 years ago I had another near fainting episode while teaching Sunday School one Sunday morning, resulting in an ambulance ride to the ER during church — an exciting experience! After a series of doctor visits after both episodes, it was revealed that I had a particularly low resting heart rate (low- to mid-40s) and that I was susceptible to fainting because when standing after having my feet elevated or after having been sitting for an extended period, my blood pressure would drop significantly.
The doctors all said that while I was a candidate for a pacemaker, it was not yet necessary since I functioned well with the low heart rate. They gave additional instructions for how to deal with the blood pressure issues, and all has been well since then. Until two weeks ago.
While in a meeting one morning, I suddenly began feeling tremendously light-headed and dizzy. That dizziness persisted throughout the day and then the same thing happened again two days later. While I often have experienced that when standing up, having it while seated and having it remain has never happened previously. Several times during those days I took my blood pressure and heart rate and found that it was in the mid-30s — low even for me! When Raye Jeanne called my cardiologist, he said he wanted to see me that day. “But it’s Friday — my sermon writing day,” I protested. “We’re going,” my wise wife informed me.
That Friday the cardiologist informed me, “We’ve always said, ‘When, not if,’ you are going to have a pacemaker. It’s ‘when’….” So he sent a message to the surgeon with the diagnosis for a pacemaker. After a series of calls on Monday and Tuesday, the surgeon said he wanted to see me on Wednesday — that he would come in early to the office just to see me. When he heard my story and saw the most recent EKGs, he also said, “It’s when.” And then he scheduled me for the surgery two days later.
It’s now five days post surgery; I worked at home Monday and Tuesday and have a regular schedule at the office the rest of this week. And during these past days I have marveled at God’s grace in my life and have been particularly thankful.
I am thankful for:
- God’s common grace. What just a few decades ago might have been a life-altering or life-shortening experience has now become a routine surgery with dramatic changes to life-expectancy and life activity. The knowledge of how the body functions and how to create a device that can be implanted in the body to correct my malfunction is a gift from God that is the benefit to all mankind (as with the sun and rain in Mt. 5:45). This week I have experienced one benefit (actually a whole series of benefits) of that grace. I do not overlook that kindness.
- God’s gracious timing. From the first phone call to my cardiologist until I was taken back for surgery was exactly seven days. That seems pretty remarkable to me, especially considering that I saw two different doctors in that week, both in less than 24 hours after a phone call was made. We know that God is sovereign over all things. I am grateful for His sovereign working over schedulers and schedules to be able to have this surgery as quickly as I did.
- Life. There is a strong history of coronary disease in my family (though my particular problem in this instance was different than most of my other family members). I am grateful that the Lord has seen fit to give me more days to serve Him, my family, and the body of Christ.
- My wife. I am trying to be a good patient. I don’t always succeed. She always helps me with grace and gentleness to do what I need to do to honor the Lord in the care of my body. (Which is one way to say, “I’m thankful she made the first phone call to the first doctor.”) And I am grateful to be her husband. I am a highly privileged man to spend my days with her.
- My children. They have cared and prayed and called and visited. And they have not worried or been anxious or fearful. They have exhibited the fruit of the Spirit of Christ in this circumstance. The heat of testing has been applied to their lives and they have been found faithful.
- God’s gracious people. I am overwhelmed with expressions of love from our church family, particularly: notes, texts, phone calls, emails, meals, and prayers. And more prayers. I have always said that our church is a unique place in the way it loves and cares for its own. That’s the way it should be (Jn. 13:34-35); but it’s not always that way it is. But at GBC, that’s the way it invariably is. And Raye Jeanne and I have experienced that love and care again and again these past two weeks, and I am overwhelmed with humility and gratitude.
- Godly and gracious elders. When I told the elders my situation, within minutes there were two volunteers to preach for me that Sunday, and an immediate care and concern from all the others to make sure we received the ministry support and help we needed to get the surgery done. The men who serve our body as elders are gracious, gentle, wise, and compassionate shepherds. I am thankful for each one of them. They care for us well.
- Peace. My mother died of cardiac failure. As did her father and brother. I’ve known I’ve had heart issues (though different from my mother’s) for years. And the Lord has been gracious to give me contentment and freedom from anxiousness throughout this process. I understand that a pacemaker is, in the medical world, a pretty routine procedure. But I also understand that no doctor is sovereign and there was no guarantee the pacemaker would work or that I would even make it to surgery. Yet Raye Jeanne and I have rested comfortably each day and night, confident that whatever the Lord would bring, it would not only be good for us, but it would be the best for us. Truly, He is good, and He does good (Ps. 119:68).
- Salvation. This is last on the list, but it is first in importance. The doctors fixed the problem in my physical heart last week. But my real problem is a corrupt spiritual heart. And in infinite, magnificent grace, the Lord fixed that half a century ago. He replaced my stony, hard heart and replaced it with a heart of flesh (Ezk. 36:26). He made me, who hated Him, His son. He made it possible for me, who could do nothing good or pleasing to Him, to not only be declared righteous, but to do acts of righteousness that please Him. He came and inhabited my life through the indwelling Spirit. He gave me the real change that I needed. He fixed my spiritual heart. And that is the greatest source of my gratitude.
And as I pray now, I not only am full of gratitude, but I have this one request: Lord, keep me from wasting my pacemaker; make my days productive for Your glory so that the days You grant me through this technology will be for the spiritual benefit of me, Your people, and for Your honor.