Sunday, March 22, 2009

Filling in that one blank

No matter what our chronological age is, we never really become an adult until we are asked to fill-in the blank that says, "Please list your next of kin." I think we never truly mature until the moment that we acknowledge our mortality.

I don't remember who said that quote first, but I remember hearing thoughts like this early on from my dear friend Ted, and then hearing it echoed later-on in meetings in recovery. For quite a while, I've believed the core of that thought - that childhood is connected to that "I'm gonna live forever" idea, while adulthood seems to bring with it an understanding of finite existence.

I had "the conversation" with Chris tonight. The one where I told him where the bank accounts are, where the title to the car is, what the passwords on the various email and phone accounts are. And I made out a list of who-to-call, "just in case." While there's a logical, rational part of me that says that this is just a cardiac catheterization, not "farewell," you moron, there's another part of me that knows all too well that while I trust God to catch my immortal soul, He makes no guarantee about this fragile earthly shell.

For that reason, there have been a thousand thoughts racing around my head tonight - and not all of them have been chock-full of gratitude, to be honest. For a number of years, I have had problems with "prayers for healing" - because I have known a number of good, wonderful, upright, humble and loving servants-of-God who sickened, were prayed for and anointed with oil and fasted-for and had every kind of spiritual sacrifice for them, and died anyway.

And there is a sick, untreated part of me that's stuck in justification-by-works thinking that says If those people, who were all-that-I-would-want-to-be, didn't get saved, what chance do you have? (This is not, as you might imagine, a positive or upbeat line of reasoning...)

The fractionally-sane part of me knows better. That part of me knows about faith which is the size of a mustard seed; knows about forgiving seventy-times-seven; knows about the woman at the well and the penitent thief and the disciple who denied and yet was welcomed. That part of me knows that it's not "me down here, and them up there" on some cosmic sliding-scale of righteousness.

I try very hard to listen to that part of my mind and heart. But I don't always succeed.

There is also a part of me that prays, begging for mercy. Not for me, mind you - but for Chris. He's been rejected so many times, Lord, I pray, please don't let this end for him when it's just truly beginning, OK? And for my sister Sue - it's a McDonalds' thing, Lord - she really deserves a break today, cuz she sho'nuf hasn't had one lately.

But it seems I am still a theological work-in-process, because I can still believe that God will take care of them more than he will take care of me. Deep down inside there's still part of me that thinks I've used up all my chances - even though the rest of me wants to shout that little part down and deny it.

I was reminded, in talking with my sponsor, Bob S., and several others tonight, that regardless how this procedure comes out, a couple things are still true. The first is that I'm God's kid; I've been on God's list, even when I was walking in darkness all those years. I never did buy the idea that I am somehow "predestined" to be this or that; I was reminded that God chose me, regardless of the times that I walked (or staggered) away. As Bob said, "You've been on God's side for a long, long time, Steve. You don't owe for the flesh, any more."

I was also reminded that my life is, and always has been, in God's hands. When I got up and was feeling wonderful, or when I woke up terrified of how things might be, or on those days when I woke up and didn't give a thought to God or God's plan - I was in God's hands all those times. What is any different about tonight? Nothing, of course.

I was also reminded that (despite the absence of a black shirt and a white collar or a pulpit) I've still been able to minister to a whole lot of people, in many ways and in many places. While many of the people I went to school with have been ordained recently, I've had a time or two (or nineteen) to consider how often I've had the chance to tend to God's critters, even without a formal degree, position, or designation. I tend to forget about that - especially as I have heard a number of my younger friends calling each other "Reverend" these days. But there's room at the table for everyone, it seems - fancy collar or no.

And lastly - just in case I don't get the chance to say it: though I am far from ready for this run to end, it's still been one hell of a run for a guy like me. I have honestly had eighteen years "in the bonus round," and the last eighteen very special months in the "Super Bonus Round."

As I was reminded tonight, heaven can be my home, but I don't have to be homesick, quite yet. Even so, I can honestly say that while I haven't gotten all that I wanted, I still have gotten way, way more than I could have ever deserved. To the love of my life, to my family, and my friends far and near, I can truly say this: Soli Deo gloria - to God alone be the glory, for this glorious mess.

Thoughts from the body-n-fender shop

Thursday night, 9 PM.

I was at the Thursday night Men's meeting when I started to feel this twinge in my left chest, and a little numbness in my left arm. I thought back over the evening - Chris and I had been to two standing-room-only restaurants before settling on "comfort food" at Bob Evans, and my first thought was "...too much caffeine for one evening," and gave it no mind.

When I got home, the little twinges were a little sharper, but nothing to be alarmed about. I took an extra aspirin (just in case, you know) - and (since I have been prone to 3-4 panic attacks a year) a half-doze of medicine for that, just to be sure - and went to bed.

About 4:30, I woke up, fully awake and alert, and realized the twinges were now what I would call between "discomfort in my chest" and "chest pain." The left elbow still hurt, and the left fingers were still numb. And then "the debate" started...

From what I have heard, everyone who has had a heart attack has had this debate in their head. It starts off with, "Well, how bad IS this, really? It's not really THAT bad, is it?..." And then that thought is followed by...

- Nah, it's not really that bad...
- ...but it's not going away.
- And it's been six hours since you took the drugs.
- If it was going to go away, it would have, by now.
- But it's not that bad. It's not even painful, really.
- But - you're over fifty, over-weight, hypertense, and diabetic.
- A four-star risk-factor list, if ever there was one.
- And you're eleven miles from the hospital.
- And who knows how far the ambulance would have to come.
- But if you go, you're not gonna get out for at least a day.
- And it's gonna be a pain in the ass.
- You hate IV's worse than the prospect of a gasoline enema.
- And your partner has had a long day, and needs his sleep.
- He's had a hard week.
- And he's not an early-morning person - you KNOW that.
- And a trip to the emergency room will not help any of that...

But the deal-breaker always comes back to this: Are you sure - absolutely sure - that if something happens, you'll get him up in time? And how bad's his day gonna be if he wakes up and finds the love-of-his-life cold and dead next to him, or sprawled-out on the kitchen floor?

And the answer (for me, anyway) always comes back to Well, that would pretty much suck forever and ever, wouldn't it?

Talk about God speaking to you in a clear voice....So, off to the hospital we went, at 5 AM.

Thank God, St. Luke's in Maumee, OH had an empty emergency-room and a "chest pain to the top of the list" protocol. As soon as they had gotten the blood tests back, they knew I hadn't had a heart attack, which was good. However, since we knew that they would admit me anyway (the ER doctor said, "An admission of diabetes and a complaint of chest pain means an automatic 24-hour stay at Hotel St. Luke's, for monitoring"), I sent Chris home. No sense in two of us having to sit around, doing nothing...

Part of the ER protocol for chest-pain is administering a drug called Lopressor, to ease the load on the heart. That drug, however, also screws up the chance to do any kind of stress-testing for 24 hours. So my 24-hour stay got stretched to 48, by mid-afternoon. And the next morning, they told me that the stress-test would have to be done in two parts (the double-scan would pump too much radioactive tracer into me in one day).

So that's why it's 3 PM on Sunday, and I'm waiting eagerly for the results of the second portion of the heart scan, so I can get the hell out of here. So far the only real benefit of this stay (other than knowing that I haven't had a heart attack) is to catch up on sleep and to see the Battlestar Galactica marathon and finale on Friday night.

I've watched about all the Food Network and National Geographic I can stand. I've had it with 99% of the nonsense I've seen on SciFi, and more Catholic priests and black gospel preachers than I would have ever imagined I'd watch. I've caught up on my sleep, and am ready to go out and hit the YMCA and a Thai restaurant, each with a fervor I've not found previously.

And I'm damn tired of sleeping alone, to be honest. I've grown accustomed to the big ol' bear I live with, and I miss him terribly. (No matter how unnatural a couple of the Sunday-mornin' preachers would call it...) I've been hearin' Can't Help (Lovin' That Man o' Mine) more times than I choose to, and I'm ready (as Richard Marx would say) for him to be Back In My Arms Again.

It's been a blessing, though, to see how the community of recovery has rallied around me. I called my friend Red when it became clear I'd be here for a couple days, and he sent out an email to his list of half-a-bazillion people letting them know I was in the hospital, and my room number. About ten minutes later, I got a call from a buddy I used to go to meetings with in Kansas - who used to go to meetings here in Toledo - who got the email and wanted to know what was up.

I did the same thing on Facebook, and got a similar response. Dozens and dozens of messages, prayers, and "listen to your damn doctor" texts from across the country.

And that's the way it's been all weekend - call after call, prayer upon prayer. If ever I needed reminding how I'm blessed, I would certainly have gotten that reminder this weekend.

And I have to commend the nursing and dietary staff at St. Luke's for making the very best out of a bad situation. The dietary folks have done a wonderful job of making "low-salt, low-fat" seem tolerable, and the nurses and nurse-techs have done a great job of putting up with a whiner like me. They have made an unfortunate stay into a more-than-decent experience, and who can ask for more than that?

(Note to self: next time you have to do this, have them shave your chest AND your IV arm, right up front, in the ER. The absolute worst part about having an IV is dealing with the hair-and-tape nightmare at the end...)

I'm debating work on Monday - frankly, I could use a day of downtime after my "Less Than Excellent Weekend" here. And The Evil Empire will be there when I get back, for sure. (Well, that was a short debate, wasn't it?...)

For now, I'm just giving thanks for another day above-ground, and (as my friend Bob L in Kansas would say) "sunny-side-up, suckin' air and sober." For someone who briefly contemplated the possibility of "cold and dead on the kitchen floor" on Friday morning, that's a pretty wonderful way to be Sunday afternoon.

Thank you, to all who wrote and prayed. I know it's a gift from God that I get this day, and any that are yet to come.

Update: I am staying here another day - I now have a cardiologist, which I didn't have before, and a tentative date for cardiac catheterization Monday afternoon. Prayers would be welcome.

Monday, March 09, 2009

"Heart and Soul" and nursery rhymes

OK, here's a freaky one, that has nothing to do with anything at all...

There is, in this video, a monotone-ish female narrative, and a melodic line. I'm going to suggest that most (if not all) nursery-rhymes will fit into the narrative rhythm, just as well as...well, whatever she's saying in the background.

Try it. Let me know if you find yourself hearing
Jack and Jill
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after...."
or something similar every time you hear this song, from this day on....

Friday, March 06, 2009

Not a record to be proud of

Twenty-nine days without a post.

Not a sign of spiritual or emotional solidity, to be sure. Which, I guess, is what a friend would call "the God's honest truth of the matter."

My blogging absence started with not feeling quite well - a winter cold that turned into a sinus infection, then into a series of bloody noses and all kinds of plague-like symptoms that even grossed me out, at times. Started right about the time I signed up for a year of YMCA membership - which really annoyed me, at times. Sadly, however, I literally was too exhausted to even care, most days.

And then the announcement that we've been afraid of for more than a year came out: The Evil Empire will be closing our office by December 31st, and will be outsourcing our operation to their operations in Mumbai, India. The original target for the "transition" was originally in the June-to-September timeframe. But our offshore operations ended up with a surplus of India folks who have "transitioned" from another team (one of our clients, a national department-store firm, went bankrupt and ceased operations in December).

So we are creating "standard operating procedures" or SOPs (euphemism for idiot-proof job guides at the "...and the monkey pushes the button..." level of detail), and have begun the process of actually training the men and women who will be taking our jobs. I wish that I could say that I have been a resentment-free, willing participant in this process, but I have found more than a couple days when it took every fiber in my being to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen and sign on to the network at The Empire. (Could I call this chapter in my life The Empire Strikes Back, I wonder?...)

Then, my sister and brother-in-law have been even sicker than I have been - having both the respiratory and gastro-intestinal varieties of plague. Jeff is still without a job - although Sue has been sending out resumes and doing what she can. But she has been struggling with her own health, and both the advancing symptoms of fibromyalgia and the ongoing financial burdens of the now-abandoned condo (keeping enough heat on to keep pipes from freezing has still cost them almost $200 a month in this bitterly cold winter).

We do not have winters like my Canadian brothers and sisters - not even like br'er Ben up in Lansing. But the consensus of the long-timers here is that this has been the longest stretch of below-freezing weather that northwest Ohio has had in many a long year (some would say back to the epic Blizzard of '78). That has probably contributed to my bear-in-a-cave syndrome. Being sick and cold and cranky is not a pretty combination, even in a man of great character. In a whiney, self-centered bear like me, it's not been pretty at all.

But there is still much to celebrate.

Chris started his new job at a local hobby center at the end of January, and is vastly happier with his days and nights than he ever was with The Spawn of Satan Hotel. He has had a couple dances with his someday-future dream job in Champaign, but a recent trip there basically told him that the dream will still be deferred a while longer. However, our relationship remains strong, and I still thank God that this wonderful guy is in my life.

After a long-ish drought, a young man has asked me to sponsor him in the recovery process, and that has loosened some of the spiritual logjam in my soul. (I was beginning to believe that somehow I'd lost whatever it was that was attractive in sobriety, and nobody "wanted what I had." Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case...)

I wish I could find a faith community in which I could feel comfortable; partly I have resisted because of Chris' Sunday schedule, but to be honest, I just don't want to get into it, right now. But as Ash Wednesday came and went, I have to admit to missing the sounds of the "Holden Evening Prayer" and being a part of a caring face-to-face community of believers.

The liturgical calendar says that it is Lent - but it seems like the Easter Vigil - somewhere between crucifixion and resurrection. A time of waiting, a time of not knowing the answers, hoping for recreation, for new life. And, for now, a time for "trudging the road" - even when it seems like it is covered with cold molasses.

One day at a time, one trudging step at a time, trusting that we are moving forward - even when we cannot see the way.