Friday, July 22, 2016

Putting on the Armor of God

This summer I've been participating in Priscilla Shirer's Armor of God study.  On page 99, Priscilla poses the question:

How did the enemy take advantage of an upsetting, unexpected, chaotic event or circumstance to gain access to your life?
Well, I had a heart transplant 17 months ago.

It all happened quickly.  April 2014 I gave birth to my third baby and a week later was admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure due to a genetic condition that I had been told wasn't very serious and most likely wouldn't be a problem.  Six months later, I learned that I needed a heart transplant to save my life.  Our family had to temporarily move four hours south to live with my parents a few months later as I waited for and recovered from the transplant.  Then we moved back and have been struggling to find the "new normal" since then.

How's that for an upsetting, unexpected and chaotic event or circumstance?

Those days of heart failure were hard to be sure, but at the same time, it was a beautiful time in my life.  I felt loved, supported, at peace and so very close to God.  It was pretty easy to be heavenly minded when the physical body was declining daily and rapidly.

My post transplant spiritual life has been rocky by comparison,

In the months after my transplant, I was recovering physical wellness, regaining energy, regaining strength almost daily.  I was on an emotional high, so happy and grateful to be alive.  I felt so very much better and could hardly believe there was any limit to how much better I could feel.  It seemed within reason that I was going to be "normal" very soon.

Hello, pride.

God had felt so near.  But slowly, He felt farther away.  Who moved?  That would be me.

Old struggles I thought were resolved cropped back up.  From my high school and college days, God had slowly and painstakingly brought me out of perfectionism, legalism, and the bad habit of measuring myself by my accomplishments or comparing myself to others.  In the past 17 months, I let those snares entangle me again.  I struggled mightily to meet my own expectations and the perceived expectations of others, and despaired when I failed.

Why couldn't I keep up? Maybe I was just lazy.... Maybe I needed to push myself harder.  Maybe I just needed better systems and strategies..  I pushed myself and berated myself for not being able to do and accomplish as much as I thought I should be able to do.

All along, the real and biggest problem was that my focus had moved off of Christ and onto myself, to my struggles and circumstances.  I felt irritable, short-tempered, selfish, restless, unbalanced, uncentered. I was half in denial about the limitations living with a transplant places on me, while also resenting those limitations at the same time.

The enemy had used his usual tactics of deception and hitting at my weak points to pull me down to be sure.

I missed the first three weeks of the Armor of God study due to serving at VBS and needing to get my blood drawn to verify my medicine levels.  Last week I went back through the first few weeks of lessons to catch up.

God's word does not return void and it came at just the right time to rescue me from the pit I had fallen back into.  It opened my eyes to the reality of the enemy and the way he works, but more importantly, reminded me about my spiritual identity and spiritual resources.

With a refreshed and renewed understanding of who I am in Christ, I've been able to better come to grips with the truth of my physical reality as well.

I'm accepting the fact that living with a transplant is like living with a chronic illness or condition.  This new level of acceptance sparked curiosity, and I set out to find out as much as I can about the whats and whys of limits.

Here's what I learned:

Although my new heart works so much better than my old thick, stiff, failing one did, it has specific limitations because of the nerve connections that were severed when the heart was transplanted.

The vagus nerve is the most efficient way for the body to adjust heart rate and blood flow as needed to accommodate for changes in activity level, body position, and external temperature.  But God designed a back-up plan: hormones from the adrenal gland.

But there is a catch: The hormonal pathways my body now uses to adjust my heart rate and blood flow is much slower to turn on and shut off than the nearly instant adjustments the nervous system can make.

As a result, I "feel the burn" sooner when exercising or doing heavy housework, and have more soreness afterward that lingers longer than it otherwise might .  Getting up from a seated or squatting position quickly causes momentary low blood pressure and dizziness, which can be bothersome when picking things up off the floor for example.  If I let myself get too cold, it seems to take forever for me to feel warm again,  More bothersome to me is how much lower my stamina is and longer my recovery time is when the weather is hot.

That is part of the terrain I am traversing.  Other features of my terrain are room for improvement in communication with my wonderful husband who has to work longer hours than I'd like, three active and intense children including a daughter with behaviors on the autism spectrum (we are in the midst of evaluations for a diagnosis) ... those are other features of my terrain.

God is with me, and has not left me helpless or defenseless in the face of these circumstances.  He has blessed me with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, but I have to activate them. Richard A. Burr came up with a clever acronym: Prayer Releases All Your Eternal Resources.

Asking for what I need with gratitude relieves anxiety and promotes peace.  I can cast my cares on Him because he cares for me.        

God has been faithful and good through it all.  Here are a few ways he has provided and blessed me:

In my search for truth, I was led to a website for Christians with chronic illness: Rest Ministries.  There I found beautiful words of vulnerability and dependence on God in the midst of suffering.  The prayer cards they offer for download there have been helpful to me as well.

A sibling rivalry e-course by Connected Families we started last month is equipping our family with practical ways to use the shoes of peace in our family relationships.

These months have not been wasted.  Some of what seemed like backward movement may have been necessary to clear the way for new growth in the future.  Certainly, the process of re-evaluating who I am has led to a better certainty and understanding of my gifts and callings.  Creative communication and teaching along with hospitality, which I share with my husband, round out my top three.

This blog is one way to live out my calling.  Opening my home to host La Leche League meetings starting next month is another.  And last but certainly not least, my husband and I will be exercising our shared gift of hospitality by welcoming an exchange student into our family for the coming school year.

I'll be back soon to share more about my journey and what I'm learning from God's graceful discipline.

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