As some of you know, the pig valve they placed in my heart 7 years ago has been misbehaving as of late and it appears I'll need to replace it earlier than I had hoped. Since I'd been told it would last closer to 15 years, I had not placed open heart surgery on my agenda for 2014 or 2015. And, frankly, I'm booked. If I must have surgery in the next year, I believe I can arrange it in the first week of August. It's penciled in.
In another development, I've seen some stuff this year that has challenged my ideas of how God works. Or, more accurately, he has destroyed the large box I placed around him. I thought I'd given him a big enough box to move around in, but, as it turns out, he refused to be limited by what I could comprehend.
This year I've had the honor of meeting people who experience God in ways I only dream of. Like Jackie--whose stories of God's power in her life of serving the lowest of the low in Beirut is surpassed only by her personal story of physical and emotional healing. Or, the many Muslims with whom I've conversed who've had dreams of Jesus and miraculously experienced his power and love. And I could go on for hours. These men and women from Egypt and Turkey and Iran and Jordan and Israel have lived in much more uncertainty and much more faith than I, and the result is a different experience of the Trinity. One of dependence and hope and love. And, its an experience I desire.
So I decided to pray for a miracle.
Half-hearted Prayer (no pun intended)
About a month ago I decided to regularly pray that my thickening, hardening valve would reverse its disease and once again become the healthy, pliable piece of tissue its supposed to be. And, I asked a few others to pray this with me.
This is going to tell you a bit about my own weirdness, but I had a hard time getting excited about praying for this miracle and I couldn't figure it out. It wasn't that I didn't believe God could do this--I really did believe he could. But still, the prayer just didn't 'fit'. I had a hard time articulating it, but I didn't feel like this was a prayer God was inviting me to pray.
This brought up a deep, theological question for me--does the Holy Spirit help tell us what to pray for? I mean, on a personal level. Hmmmm.
Signs of Hope
Over the last month I found exercise to be more enjoyable and fruitful. Even with my damaged valve, I was able to run regularly, even increasing my pace and mileage slightly. I began to think it might be happening. Perhaps surgery would be put off indefinitely or...become unnecessary. I stopped obsessing about my heart when I ran and began again to live in the present moment. That was a gift.
But, last week I was reminded of the sporadic nature of my condition. With no warning, the tiredness, light-headedness and breathlessness reappeared. Nothing dramatic, just subtle reminders of my humanity. So I kept praying.
An Unexpected Answer
And then came the answer. "This isn't what I desire for you."
I stopped praying for this miracle today because God told me to. I think. Sometimes its difficult to discern the voice of God. But, best I can tell, this is his desire.
In a phone conversation with a friend I hadn't spoken with in a while, I shared the news about my heart. I joked that I didn't have time for surgery so I was praying it didn't have to happen. His response?
"Kelli, maybe you need a time of being cared for. I know you prefer to be the one giving, but maybe you need to receive. All this busyness and performance and activity may need to stop for a bit."
I laughed nervously as I confessed, "You know this is what I do for a living, right? I teach leaders how to rest."
"We have a name for someone like you. It's 'hypocrite.' This was not an accusation. It was a mirror.
And I knew these were God's words to me. In teaching others to submit to the realities of their physical, emotional and spiritual capacities, I must become the student as well. As I pondered this for a bit longer, God reminded me that one of my most powerful times in ministry was after my first open heart surgery. I spoke at a women's conference in Dubai 6 weeks after my surgery. And, after 6 weeks of complete rest and solitude and more rest and submitting to the care of others and the gradual process of healing, I experienced miraculous power as I traveled and spoke.
Probably not coincidence.
So I've stopped praying for my heart to be miraculously healed--at least physically. Instead, I'm asking for the grace to submit each moment to whatever God has for me. I really do hope I can wait until August to have my surgery, but I can entrust my schedule to God. Because he loves me. And he is continuing to perform miracles in my heart.
Season of Delight
I love to run. Well, at least, I used to love to run. It was the kind of activity I truly delighted in. From my running app's verbal signal "Beginning run," to my post-run stretching routine, I loved it all. In my adult life I only participated in a single organized race. Nine months after my first open heart surgery I ran the Phoenix Rock 'n Roll half marathon as a celebration of my renewed energy and life. Other than that, I hated to spoil the pure joy of running with the duty of a training regimen.
Season of Discipline
But now it's different. The shiny new heart valve from seven years ago is wearing out. It's tired and getting less and less elastic; hardening itself against the constant blood flow through my heart and narrowing the passageway that supplies oxygenated blood to the rest of my body.
I'm still running--my cardiologist insists upon it--but now its strictly out of duty. I'm tired and I'm sensitive to every tiny irregularity in my body or my process. As my pace continues to slow and my breath gets shorter, I worry. Should I stop? Am I pushing it too hard?
Regular exercise is the most accurate indicator of my heart's condition and a daily run is now "doctors orders." What a drag. And a gift.
Desire: Discipline: Delight: Repeat
In retreats I lead, I walk people through the cycle of connecting with their desires, then creating disciplined action that helps them lean into those desires, which, if followed, ultimately lead to a season of delight. In our 'instant' culture, we often believe we can move straight from desiring something to possessing it. That works for goods and services, but not for relationships or movement toward God or, really, anything of lasting significance.
For change to occur in these 'things that matter', we must usually spend time intentionally engaging in new patterns of behavior and thought that slowly, often imperceptibly, create space for God to do his transforming work in us. The good news is that, in time, these new patterns become established and we are able to enjoy the fruit of God's spirit-- increased capacity for love, joy, peace, patience, etc.
But in this season of my life I'm being reminded of some truths I've forgotten. Mainly, that sometimes, even after a long season of delight, I might be required to move back into a season of discipline.
Over ten years ago I began a journey that has led to the most dramatic internal transformation in my life. Against all odds, I have become more loving, more compassionate, more joyful and quite comfortable in the disciplines that have created space for the Holy Spirit to work.
And then, I started grad school. I naively (or, pridefully) assumed I would simply be able to continue my current spiritual experience of delight. But Jesus invited me to step out of the boat in the middle of the lake. What I found was I hadn't quite mastered it all and there is a renewed focus on spiritual disciplines in my life. Like my new running regimen, it requires more work to engage in, but I know it may save my life. As I read this week from Eugene Peterson, "...ours is a pedestrian way, literally pedestrian: we put one foot in front of the other as we follow Jesus." And that is what I am doing. It's not pretty or fast, but I'm putting one foot in front of the other.
I love how God is weaving together my spiritual and physical health. He knows I need practical pictures of his movement in my life and he is faithful to provide. When it is time for my physical open heart surgery, I'll praise God again for the new life he gives me physically--which everyone can witness--while also enjoying the continued new life he provides in my spiritual heart.
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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