What Does Beauty Tell Us?

I’ve been using John Eldredge’s “Knowing the Heart of God” devotional this year. The daily entries are excerpts from his and Stasi’s books. So, it is a bit uneven for me, but lately I’ve drawn inspiration, comfort and insight from the entries.

Right now the entries are on Beauty. From their book “Captivating” John and Stasi shared this excerpt from St. Augustine: I said to all these things, “Tell me of my God who you are not, tell me something about him.” And with a great voice they cried out: “He made us” (Psalm 99:3). My question was the attention I gave to them, and their response was their beauty.

I love the obvious and profound that is often overlooked in search for the complicated and esoteric. As we celebrate the beauty of nature in the springtime of the year, let us receive all that beauty offers us in appreciating the life given us by God. We are reminded again that the heavens are telling a story. And so are the Azaleas, Tulips, Davids and Jennifers.

Beauty tells us that God values completeness and heartfelt rest and room for our souls to breathe. We were made for harmony and wholeness, and beauty has a role in restoring the brokenness as God uses his Best to bring us back home.

On Holy Saturday

The following is an excerpt from a paper Stephanie Berbec wrote three years ago in grad school for the class: Beauty, Brokenness and the Cross: Atonement Theology Through the Arts. As we enter into the Triduum, I found it appropriate and necessary to revisit:

Holy Saturday. The epitome of the dark night of the soul. If any day has ever hindered one’s spiritual journey towards a relationship with God, it was this day. This is the day after—the day when pain is felt the greatest. When walking along with someone on their journey towards an expected death, it seems as though the world stops. After death, the next day, is when one realizes that the world has continued moving. Reality sets in and life must resume. But no one wants to get out of bed on Holy Saturday, for it is here that grief and loneliness begin. While it is okay to acknowledge the end of the story, “we are also invited to read the story from the inside, from the perspective of those who live through the shadows of Friday and Saturday without knowing the ending, for whom the Friday is a catastrophic finale to the would-be Messiah’s life, a day devoid of victory, a day of shredded hopes, drained of goodness.” Partaking in the story in such a way as the disciples, who didn’t know if Sunday would even happen, is best if one fully wants to grasp the meaning of this Holy Saturday.

Further, Lewis expresses the gravity of this day in declaring, “[that] we have not really listened to the gospel story of the cross and grave until we have construed this cold, dark Sabbath as the day of atheism.” Once again, it is only in knowing that Sunday comes that one can comprehend titling such day as “holy.” However, for the disciples, there was nothing about this day worthy of being considered holy. With Jesus of Nazareth dead, the liturgy became meaningless. The eucharist would not be consumed. If God was dead, to even pray seemed absurd. One can wonder if comfort was sought in the Psalms, “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.”

With heavy hearts, those who loved Jesus most must now accept His death and acknowledge their pain. Both of which are necessary to begin the process of grieving. Chittister encourages, “[that] with or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the question is only how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.” The grief experienced on this day was not recorded, leaving the reader to assume that the biblical authors found the events (or lack thereof) on Holy Saturday unnecessary to document. Perhaps, however, “the nonevent of the second day could after all be a significant zeroa pregnant emptiness, a silent nothing which says everything.”

May you allow yourself to enter into the particularity of each day—slowly, patiently, not rushing toward Easter Sunday—experiencing the pace and emotions of what each day may hold.

 wrote three years ago in grad school for the class: Beauty, Brokenness and the Cross: Atonement Theology Through the Arts. As we enter into the Triduum, I found it appropriate and necessary to revisit:

Holy Saturday. The epitome of the dark night of the soul. If any day has ever hindered one’s spiritual journey towards a relationship with God, it was this day. This is the day after—the day when pain is felt the greatest. When walking along with someone on their journey towards an expected death, it seems as though the world stops. After death, the next day, is when one realizes that the world has continued moving. Reality sets in and life must resume. But no one wants to get out of bed on Holy Saturday, for it is here that grief and loneliness begin. While it is okay to acknowledge the end of the story, “we are also invited to read the story from the inside, from the perspective of those who live through the shadows of Friday and Saturday without knowing the ending, for whom the Friday is a catastrophic finale to the would-be Messiah’s life, a day devoid of victory, a day of shredded hopes, drained of goodness.” Partaking in the story in such a way as the disciples, who didn’t know if Sunday would even happen, is best if one fully wants to grasp the meaning of this Holy Saturday.

Further, Lewis expresses the gravity of this day in declaring, “[that] we have not really listened to the gospel story of the cross and grave until we have construed this cold, dark Sabbath as the day of atheism.” Once again, it is only in knowing that Sunday comes that one can comprehend titling such day as “holy.” However, for the disciples, there was nothing about this day worthy of being considered holy. With Jesus of Nazareth dead, the liturgy became meaningless. The eucharist would not be consumed. If God was dead, to even pray seemed absurd. One can wonder if comfort was sought in the Psalms, “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.”

With heavy hearts, those who loved Jesus most must now accept His death and acknowledge their pain. Both of which are necessary to begin the process of grieving. Chittister encourages, “[that] with or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the question is only how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.” The grief experienced on this day was not recorded, leaving the reader to assume that the biblical authors found the events (or lack thereof) on Holy Saturday unnecessary to document. Perhaps, however, “the nonevent of the second day could after all be a significant zeroa pregnant emptiness, a silent nothing which says everything.”

May you allow yourself to enter into the particularity of each day—slowly, patiently, not rushing toward Easter Sunday—experiencing the pace and emotions of what each day may hold.

http://stephanieberbec.tumblr.com/

The Easy Way Out

A few days before Palm Sunday: The Easy Way Out

Apparently, Jesus teaches us that we are foolish when we look for the shortcut or the easy way out. One of the places we see that is in the ride into Jerusalem that kicked off what we now call Holy Week. Upon closer examination, perhaps we should call it “Humiliation Week.” Regardless of what exegetical tricks we try to use, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, he looked like a clown at the end of a circus parade. He could’ve summoned a bold stallion, but there was a donkey reserved for him. Why?

He was patient. In the Greek it really meant that he was “longsuffering.” He wasn’t looking for the easy way out. There was a plan in place that called for his humiliation for the benefit of all of humanity. I often look for a shortcut. What am I missing by doing that? Jesus must’ve known that every minute of every day had meaning and was designed with a purpose.

What did he teach us as he rode that donkey? That we can’t cover up a bad situation to make it look better than what it is. That it was more in keeping with they life he had lived. On earth, he was poor. So, a borrowed donkey was more true to his identity at the time. I don’t want to go over the top in my observations, but I think it is quite fair to admit that the Jesus narrative was simple, but hard. For many years, this view of life affected my view of prayer.

I used to struggle with what to pray when a friend or relative was in a difficult situation or was ill. I was so aware of how often Jesus said, “No,” to those prayers that I felt it was unproductive. Why pray if it doesn’t make any difference. God’s mind is already made up, I thought. Look at Jesus. God didn’t relieve his suffering. I was increasingly aware of God’s sovereignty and how he often used difficulty to make us more like Jesus or our truest selves, and I didn’t want to get in the way of the Holy Spirit.

Then, I read the story of the synagogue leader (Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26) asking for help for his daughter who died. He asked Jesus to come and touch her and the leader believed that Jesus could raise her from the dead. That conversational request taught me that praying was asking Jesus to do something that we wanted for ourselves or someone else. We didn’t have to try to figure out the best way to pray in alignment with a theological framework, just express our feelings. The Trinity could figure out the best thing to do, but I shouldn’t be surprised either way.

And that brings us back to the suffering and pain of life. As we encounter pain, it is a revelation of The Pain that Jesus carried to the cross. As he rode that donkey, he was already thinking about what was coming. But instead of being pre-occupied with the future, he was fully present with the crowds and the twelve over the next few days realizing that he needed to prepare them for his death and departure. As we mature in our appreciation of the power of pain and suffering in our lives and in our identifying with the Savior Jesus, how do we express that in relationship with our family and close friends? What is the balance between living and dying? One answer to these questions is to find a person in the Bible with whom you identify. There are lots of different personalities and life situations portrayed and surely you can find a kindred spirit or two. How did they connect with God or with Jesus while he was on earth? You might follow their lead.

 

 

 

Is this heaven?

It was the night of February 28 – March 1 when I had been up all night the day before with an acute case of pancreatitis that I had this dream about heaven. It was, at least, a dream about a place where Jesus was present along with lots of people who loved him. You can decide if it sounds like heaven to you.

I was in the hospital for what would become the first of seven nights when I received this gift to comfort me in the midst of pain. The pain had quieted enough for me to sleep, which was something I hadn’t experienced for a few nights.

Being able to remember the details of a dream and to be buoyed emotionally by that memory are unusual for me. Like most folks I tend to dream various themes related to daily activities or past experiences that are quickly forgotten once I am awakened. This was different.

The dream began in a car. I was traveling with a few friends. Some I hadn’t seen in years and others I knew quiet well. That was typical of a Facebook-enriched subconscious mind. We were driving a bit too fast going south on Briarcliff Road in northeast Atlanta. As we turned left onto E. Ponce de Leon Avenue, we lost control and in a flash we were traveling in a hovercraft and making our approach into a welcome center port that reminded me of the entrance to an Epcot Center exhibit of the 1980s. We climbed out and were greeted by very deeply pleasant people of varying ages. You can tell when people are authentically happy by their eyes and demeanor. They were fully present with us. They directed us toward a portion of the expansive lobby that was a bit more narrow and featured window displays and exhibits of food, clothing and vehicles. I sensed that I should pay attention to these exhibits for future selections. I didn’t notice what people were wearing as I was so drawn to their faces and expressions of peace and wholeness – what we often call shalom.

Shortly, then, I walked outside to a beautiful sunlit sky and people in all directions as far as I could see. Everyone was walking and talking. And as I passed by there was a smile and a nod. Some of the people I passed I felt that I knew or had some connection with. I noticed one friend and went over to greet him. I observed that nobody was alone. There were some folks walking and some sitting, but nobody sat alone.

Occasionally, I caught the brief flash and gleam of another hovercraft landing near the entrance of the cave structure. And there were storefronts scattered along the way. I couldn’t tell if they were bakeries or coffee shops, but there were many one-story buildings and people walking in and out in random patterns.

Also, there was an unmistakable buzz. Something was about to happen. Jesus was on his way to speak to everyone. The buzz was one of familiarity. His appearance was not being anticipated with fear or uncertainty, but with a positive energy, like a friend saying, “This is going to be so good!”

I had never been in a place or atmosphere like this. It was new, but I felt completely at home and relaxed. Everyone was so happy to be here. Everyone.

That’s when it began to dawn on me that this must be a vision of heaven. Where else would it be?

  1. Everyone happy to be there.
  2. Nobody was alone.
  3. Folks couldn’t wait to see Jesus.

Heaven.

Sacred Heart Attack 2: Rehab – Chapter 8 – Health by the Numbers

After my cardiology exam, Dr. Jaber asked me to take my blood pressure at least twice a day for a week to see how effective the newly prescribed BP meds were. Then, I was to call his nurse, Randy, and report my numbers.

Date                           BP               Pulse                         Time                     Side

1/19/13 123/80 69 11:15 AM Right arm
1/20/13 120/75 68 11:28 AM Left arm
1/21/13 105/70 62 10:30 AM Right arm
1/22/13 112/78 63 11:00 AM Left arm
1/23/13 113/77 63 10:55 AM Right arm
1/23/13 129/79 70 5:43 PM Left arm
1/24/13 117/84 66 9:49 AM Right arm
1/24/13 112/81 69 9:55 AM Left arm

After I shared these numbers with Randy, he said, “You can’t get better than that. Please go ahead and phase in the new meds as Dr. Jaber prescribed and let me know if you have any problems. Otherwise, we’ll see you in a month.”

That all sounded good to me. I had worked out a plan for taking certain pills in the morning and two others at night. Since there was one of the blood pressure prescriptions that included one pill in the morning and one at night, my one dose of 80mg. of Lipitor at night, too. Having two pills to take at night would make it easier to remember. I used a weekly organizer to take six pills every morning and the two before bedtime.

My blood pressure on January 29th was 105/68 and on January 30th it was 100/63 and my pulse was 67. As the medicine synced with my body, my numbers found a plateau in a pretty low range. A level I hadn’t seen in decades! This was the range that Dr. Jaber wanted for healing and reducing stress on my heart and the stents which needed six weeks to settle into my arteries. All of this would serve me well as I eventually began to do some exercising.

Why is Tim Keller publishing so many books? And how could that be hurting the church?

Just about ten years ago, Rev. Timothy Keller was known as one of America’s truly great pastors and church planters. He had gone into one of the arguably toughest cities into which to build a church and actually succeeded in planting a sustainable church that led to several other churches being spawned in the Northeast United States and in other major cities around the world. Demand for Keller’s help began to increase and like most in demand people do, he began to think about how to package his insights, strategies and approaches to understanding God, the world and the Bible so that he could satisfy the demand. He hired editors and marketers and communication professionals to assist him. And, in short order, Keller became a New York Times Best Selling author. Given what I know of Rev. Keller, I’m sure it is not his intention to undermine the work and service of anyone.

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In American business, sports and in American Christianity, success breeds success. Effective authors become popular and build a following of readers – an audience. And as Keller became more popular demand for his published works increased. Sound familiar? In 2008, he published two best-selling books and since then he’s published eight more, plus three study guides for small groups. And more have been published since I drafted this essay about 10 months ago.

My concern with this common occurrence is that my local pastor and your community’s leaders get compared to Keller. Our society is full of the competitive spirit. And while competition may be helpful in sports and business, it can be harmful in community and relationships. A person created in God’s image and with a special part to play in God’s eternal love story doesn’t get appreciated and encouraged to play their part, but is seen as lackluster and average compared to the more successful members. The Apostle Paul spoke straightforwardly about this in the early life of the communities who followed Jesus. Competition was a problem 2,000 years ago, too. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul said that God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 

The competitive spirit is one of the things that can wound us. Paul knew this and Jesus taught this. So often Jesus talked about raising up the lesser among us and those who are weak would be made strong through hanging out with him. Jesus knew, as creator, that everyone created has a gift to bring to the community. And Paul taught this for the early followers of Jesus.

When was the last time that you heard a leader in your faith community promote the church down the street? Or a speaker praise another speaker and say that you should listen to him or buy her books before buying mine? When was the last time that a conference promoter encouraged you to hang out with the poor or immigrant in your community before attending another religious event? And this is not the whole point of my essay today. My point is that we need each other. And if we are too focused on those in the spotlight, we will miss important gifts to be received from those on the fringe. And my other point is that competition can undermine our brothers and sisters among us who have valuable contributions to make.

Jesus calls all of us to be compassionate as his heavenly father is compassionate. And compassion which quite literally means “to suffer with” requires less competition and focus on how we are different, but focusing on how we are the same. What we have in common leads to community and compassion.

A few takeaways from “In the Name of Jesus” by Henri Nouwen

I read this book over a year ago and some of the themes raised by Nouwen are still resonating with me. Here are a few:

Reflections on Christian Leadership based upon a lecture he gave in Washington DC in the mid 1980s on The Future of Christian Leadership.
Reflections on Christian Leadership based upon a lecture he gave in Washington DC in the mid 1980s on The Future of Christian Leadership.

1. The Temptation: To Be Spectacular. What are ways that I try to do things individualistically? Most everything — around the house; with my health. Instead of asking for help, I tend to say, “I’ve got this.” Why do I hesitate to ask for help? Am I afraid to expose my weakness? Fear of confessing my sin? Instead, we try to show strength, think big, pray big, so that we can become big. I don’t recall “blessed are those who think big for they will become big.” Instead Nouwen calls leaders to listen to Jesus who said, “Feed My Sheep” and to live lives of confession and forgiveness.

2. Henri shows profound insight to the challenges that pastors, ministers and church leaders face: “What if my people [congregation] really knew how I feel?”

He wrote, “When ministers and priests live their ministry mostly in their heads and relate to the Gospel as a set of valuable ideas to be announced, the body quickly takes revenge by screaming loudly for affection and intimacy. Christian leaders are called to live the Incarnation, that is, to live in the body, not only their own bodies, but also in the corporate body of the community, and to discover there the presence of the Holy Spirit.” (pp. 67-68)

This is so powerful. And is an approach that many can’t take because we lack faith. We fear being vulnerable. How do I do this in my church? Can you help us, Lord? Where do you want us to live in the body?

3. Recapturing Community — The need for simple community is real and ongoing. While we desire closer connections with fellow human beings, we fear the disclosure that more intimate connections will bring. Nouwen challenges leaders to allow themselves to be led.

If my friends come for a meal, they will see my old furniture, dirty carpet, and my food choices. What will they think? The first century church saw a vision of the body of Christ and the beauty of enjoying freedom and grace. They looked at each other and saw the resurrected Jesus. Instead of old carpet, we can see the hospitality of Jesus.

This book is available on most every book selling website. Here is the publisher information:

  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: The Crossroad Publishing Company (October 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0824512596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824512590

Cardiac Rehab: Chapter 7 – Chicken, Chili and Cornbread

I love receiving freshly cooked meals delivered to our door. It makes being under the weather just a bit easier to bear. And the visits with some of our closest friends during January and February made the food taste just that much better.

Food-Wine-3         Most folks had a few minutes to visit and usually started off by saying, “You look good. How do you feel?”

Remember: It’s hard for me to give a short answer. “I feel good, a bit tired, but happy to be home,” I said. “I find it hard to believe that I actually had a major heart attack,” I explained.

I remember a conversation with Dan and Debbie Gyger. They are some of our longtime friends through our church. Dan is an elder and residential contractor and had recently remodeled our kitchen, dining and living rooms. Debbie is an accomplished nurse and grew up in Brazil as part of a missionary family. They have three daughters and brought us some amazing tortilla soup and salad.

Jenny was not home from school yet, so I sat and talked with Dan and Deb. Being a nurse, Deb had pretty specific questions about where the blockage had been and what the doctors did. She instantly picked up on the seriousness of having a one-hundred percent blocked left anterior descending artery was and how close to death I had been. They were both very serious in their comments and thankfulness to God on my behalf. Dan prayed for Jenny, our family and me before they left.

I coughed through most of the conversation as I was still feeling the effects of my allergic reaction to Benazepril. Even though the cough was the result of a chemical reaction, it was like most every cough that took on a mind of its own whenever the air flowed through my throat. It was uncontrollable. So, the best way to quiet it was to close my mouth and calm myself. Of course, the cough made my visitors uncomfortable as they were thinking that they didn’t want to make things worse for me. Consequently, they didn’t want to linger and make me have to talk to them.

The gifts of food and the visits of friends was another example of how suffering is a catalyst for community. If we are willing to share our weakness and fragility with others, folks are eager to come to our aid. My friends Jean Vanier and Curt Armstrong of L’Arche have pointed this out many times. Namely, we should be more trusting of the human heart. As we trust and allow others to share in our weakness, we bring out the glory and essence of our brothers and sisters who have been made in the image of God. I found this to be true as friends shared their good food and acts of kindness with us in our time of need.

The Problem With Writing on Spiritual Topics: Everyone is an expert.

I started writing things that would be published when I was in junior high school. That was in the 1960s and junior high included grades 7 to 9. As you are probably aware, “middle school” effectively replaced junior high sometime in the 1980s in the United States. While middle school started popping up in the 1960s, it wasn’t the predominant structure for that transition from elementary or primary school to high school until probably 20 years later. Like the Middle Ages, middle school was a dark time when there’s lots of reviewing going on about things we’d learned in elementary school and lots of preparation going on for the important things we were going to learn in high school. There are still 1-8 schools, K-8 schools and a few junior high schools around, but the majority of schools are K-5, then 6-8 and finally 9-12.

Nonetheless, when I was in junior high we had a randomly published newspaper and “yearbook.” The reason I put yearbook in quotes is because it wasn’t the sort of annual or yearbook that most of us remember or see today. It was a smaller format with a card stock off-white cover that was saddle stitched (stapled) and everything was printed in black and white. I did a bit of writing for those publications. Then I became a “stringer” for the sports section of The Chattanooga Times and I was paid for the first time for my reporting. My job was to attend certain high school sporting events, keep statistics on each team and take notes on significant plays: like who scored points and, of course, who won the game. Sometimes I would get a quote from a player or coach. Then I would go home and call one of the writers or editors at the newspaper and tell him everything over the phone. What I reported to him would show up in the next day’s paper as “from staff reports” which my family and I knew was me. And I got paid for each game I reported on. I don’t remember how much I was paid, but it was real money.

Hixson High School - Herald Newspaper - Assistant Editor 1969-1970
Hixson High School – Herald Newspaper – Assistant Editor 1969-1970

In high school, I was on the newspaper staff as sports reporter, then sports editor, and in my senior year I was named assistant editor for the monthly publication. In that role I wrote editorial or opinion pieces for the newspaper. And that was the first time that I published an essay on a spiritual topic.

I’m going to skip ahead to when I was a news correspondent for Christianity Today. This was a freelance role separate from my fulltime jobs and I ended up usually reporting on events that happened to be occurring wherever I was living or that I happened to be attending. The primary challenge then was to remain objective when people or event leaders that I was writing about wanted me to be subjective and sympathetic to their position. The sentiment was, “we may be acting petty and self-centered, but we’re your brothers in Christ, so give us a break.”

And there it is. Whenever I write on spiritual topics, I know that someone is going to critique my theology, another person may question my application and, certainly, someone will find my practice suspect. The good news for me is that usually I’m writing about an experience or theme where my weakness, brokenness or human fragility is readily exposed. In fact, my imperfections may be the focal point.

So, why do I do it? Or, why does anyone write on a subject they know will be criticized?

I can’t speak for others, but I write on spiritual topics for a few reasons. Firstly (sorry for the British grammar), I write because I have to. I truly have an urge and need to process my life through writing. And after neglecting this need for a number of years, as I re-discovered the love of God over the past six years or so, I have a greater sense of urgency to write my life. It becomes a record of my past and a guide for my future. I feel God’s pleasure in it, too.

Secondly, as I share what I’ve written, those who read it tell me that they like what I say or it’s helpful and encourages them to do good things. There’s nothing like a phone call from someone who’s using my devotional book and saying that they were in tears before God that morning and wanted to tell me “well done.” It is thrilling for me to get word via social media or an email that my writing helped someone see their situation or God in a new and enlivening way. So, I’m motivated by the feedback and by helping people.

Thirdly, writing is a way that I connect my story with God’s larger story. Even in our brokenness, we each have a part to play in that larger story and if we don’t find a way no one will. This is my part. It’s important because it is connected to the Creator and expresses God’s essence placed in me. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.” Like Lewis, I believe we are eternal beings, and that the spiritual life is an eternal connection between our Creator and us. And that might be a fourth reason. I write and publish because it has eternal significance for all of us. That universality means that many of you may have an opinion or experience that conflicts with what I’ve written.

Sometimes that presents a problem to me. Do I want to write something that may be criticized? And that takes me back to the reasons that I write. Lately, my convictions about writing are stronger than my fear of being criticized. So, I’ll close with a final reason for writing that’s related to having the sense vividly imprinted on my heart that my life has been preserved for a purpose. Once we realize that today may be our last, choices come into focus rapidly. On most days, I’m going to choose to write. I hope you will choose to do what connects your story to God’s larger story. I long to see your glory lived out today.

Chapter 6 – Relational Re-Entry: Who knows and who doesn’t?

There were a couple of things that I knew would occur over the next few weeks. One, I’d be greeting good friends about every other day as they delivered meals to us. Some would want to visit and see how I was doing and ask a few questions. Others would want to make a quick stop, drop off food, but wouldn’t have time to visit. As one who has been told he has the “gift of gab” and finds it difficult to give short answers without appropriate context, I could expect to be frustrated by the brief encounters.

Ever leave a suitcase only partially unpacked after a long trip? We do it with our emotions, too.
Ever leave a suitcase only partially unpacked after a long trip? We do it with our emotions, too.

And the longer visits would be deeply satisfying while helping me to release some of the emotional baggage I was carrying.

Good baggage, but baggage that needed to be unpacked and put in its proper place and perspective. Tears would show my fear, pain, anxiety and joy. Amazing what shedding a few tears can accomplish.

Secondly, I knew that “I had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago or a couple of months ago,” would be a part of my conversation with most everyone for a while. And with those who knew of my surprise heart event I would be explaining symptoms and warning signs that I had experienced before and during the attack.

Again, I felt a combination of anxiety and welcome as I anticipated future encounters. I would learn later that one thing I had not anticipated was a conversation where my fellow traveler would share about someone close to them who didn’t make it to the hospital in time or doctors weren’t able to save them. And, thus, the blocked artery had killed somebody closed to them.

These encounters hit me hard with a combination of sadness and wonder. Sadness was for my friend’s loss and wonder at God’s tender mercy for saving my life. I would ask myself what my life now meant. Was I suppose to make dramatic changes? Had God saved me for some enduring quest? Was he planning to re-direct my path into a new world? Or did it mean, simply, and profoundly, that my time on earth was not done. And the God of Wholeness had more rough edges to shave off before I was ready for heaven.

What does it mean that I am still alive? It is a question that would be my constant companion for months to come.