A Slow Beat
I’ll never forget the first time I had a syncopal event. It was a Wednesday morning around 5:30 a.m. I know this because at the gym, where Jody and I are members, there is a killer spin class on Tuesday nights. We had attended that beast the night before. The instructor weighs 100 pounds soaking wet and she is a bundle of energy; the music is intense, so is the workout and we pour sweat. My body was still reeling from the class when I woke up that next morning. I got up out of bed and promptly crumpled to the floor. Woah - what had just happened? I tried to stand up again and fainted within a few moments. I say faint because that is the best way I know to describe the event. You are walking about, and with no warning, you find yourself on the floor wondering how you got there. Strange feeling. My husband witnessed the second event, caught me and flipped out. He insisted we go to the Emergency Room. I tried to resist. I was 47 years old at the time, and way to young and healthy for a real heart problem. But after some discussion, I agreed to go. When we got to the ER, my heart rate was 48 and didn’t appear interested in rising. I was stable, so I was sent home with a follow-up appointment the next day with a very nice cardiologist. Within minutes of meeting me and listening to my heart, the MD said to me, “You need a pacemaker.” Not the news I wanted. I underwent a series of tests- EKG, stress test, heart ultrasound, etc. All showed the same thing – bradycardia. Simply put, I have a slow heartbeat. Bradycardia is not a big deal, so long as you are asymptomatic, which mean you don’t faint. But this wasn’t me. I had convinced myself that I fainted because of the intense spin class, or possible dehydration, because I had really sweated. I’d seen long distance runners faint at the finish line- it could happen! So, I disregarded the medical advice. That event kicked-off a five-year period of more syncopal events, me being embarrassed, and conjuring up excuses. I was sure I was OK and didn’t need a pacemaker to keep me upright. I did not want to admit I had something wrong with my heart, or that I was getting older. I was healthy! I look back now and cringe at the conversations I had with the smart, caring physicians who treated me. I'm sure they all thought I was nuts! I blamed sinus medicine, changes in temperature, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, lack of caffeine, too much caffeine, to name but a few excuses. Yet the doctors patiently waited for me to come to terms with my condition. It was a miracle I was never truly injured, or injured anyone else. My poor guardian angels must have been pooped from working all those overtime hours.
The worst of it happened on a bike ride. Jody and I had been pedaling away in the hot August sun; we were climbing a steep hill, the temperature was 90 degrees, and the humidity was 100%. It was like riding through a bowl of steaming hot soup. I was sweating, so I stood up to air out my never region, and that is the last thing I remember. I tumbled head over feet, I guess. I landed a few feet from my bike and woke up confused and screaming for my husband. A huge raspberry on my back and a couple of embedded stones in my palm, landed me back in the ER. But still, I was "OK." At the ER, more denial and excuses. I stated I had hit a rock and it flipped me over the handlebars. Liar, liar, pants on fire. I didn’t want a pacemaker. I do now believe most of my reservation was pure, unadulterated vanity. A pacemaker represented to me that I was over the hill, and a true sign of aging. It would be a definite red flag that announced, “Beware … fragile old lady ahead.” But as the events were happening more often, I began to feel cloudy headed during the day. I was drinking 8 or more caffeinated drinks a day to compensate, and it still wasn’t enough. My average pulse was still in the low 30-40's. Finally, I began to be concerned. I am a speech-language pathologist and for a living, I evaluate patients to determine if they have cognitive problems. I was beginning to suspect that I had a cognitive problem! That forced me to face the issue. Finally, I accepted that I had a problem. My heart, had a good strong beat, but I just couldn't dance to it, or keep enough blood circulating to my brain to do the challenging work I need to do each day. So, I scheduled an appointment with the cardiologist and agreed to a pacemaker. It was put in 3 days later - probably before I could change my mind.
The surgery was no big deal. Why had I dreaded it? The incision was tiny. The feeling of horses racing inside my chest was an adjustment, but the fuzzy-headed feeling was finally gone! DING! Clear as a bell. Thank you, Jesus! After a brief adjustment period with having a faster (a whopping 60 beats per minute) pulse, I had to admit that it had been the right call! I love the comfort of knowing my heart is OK, no more excuses. I have not had any additional problems, although I did accidentally turn it off once. A magnet in the clasp of my shoulder bag was the culprit, but that's another story for another day. Looking back, my only regret is waiting 5 years to agree to my pacer.
Can you guess where I’m going with this? I’m not pulling a Jesus juke. You are reading a blog written by a self-proclaimed Jesus freak. So, let’s get to the heart of it - your heart and mine. How are things in your heart today? We are often so busy, we don't take the time to ponder. Our lives don't slow down long enough for us to have a quiet moment to pray and reflect about the state of our affairs. But take the time, my busy friend! Nowhere is the state of your relationship with God, and the condition of your heart, more apparent than in your marriage. My sins affect Jody. His sins affect me. So in keeping with the heart doctor analogy from my story, the thing that best detects the condition of your spiritual well-being is your marriage. It is the proverbial stress test! No other relationship can squeeze your heart like your marriage. Marriage squeezes what is in your heart and makes it pop out all over the place. There are probably sins in your heart that you didn't even realize were there until you got married. It would be easy to make an excuse and say your spouse is the culprit. But instead, if you allow God to use your marriage to be a tool in your sanctification process, your heart will get the necessary fix it needs. Sins flushed out and more of Jesus put in! And you will stay on pace for His plans!
Jody and I were talking on our morning walk yesterday about the most common sins that are revealed in marriage or negatively impact marriages today. Our consensus was that the top four are selfishness, envy, deceit, and lust. Now there are many sins that can take up residence in your heart and slow down its beat for Jesus. But for today's post, I am going to focus on the first one, selfishness. It is probably the sin we discuss most often in our marriage groups. Everyone has been selfish. We are born that way.
Selfishness appears whenever we consider our needs more important than the needs of others. In the case of marriage, is considering your needs more important than those of your husband or wife. Ouch! The day in, day out life together in marriage can reveal this, and oh so quickly. Probably when you were dating, you caught a glimpse of your selfish side, and your future spouses as well. But when we are "twitter-pated," we deny self to serve the other. As time marches on and the closeness of the relationship grows, and you wake up every morning with someone with morning breath and who hasn't picked up his/her dirty clothes, your true selfish nature can be exposed. It can be manifested by grabbing the last piece of chocolate cake, by monopolizing the TV viewing selection in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed, by being glued to your phone and reading an interesting article instead of engaging in conversation with your spouse that had a tough day for the fourth time that week, by denying your spouse’s sexual advances as you hop into bed feigning fatigue, or by noticing that Junior had pooped and pretending like you didn't smell a thing. Our selfishness is obvious to our spouse. They live with us and know us better than any other human on the planet. We don't fool them for a second. It is also obvious to God. Philippians 2:3 encourages us to "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves." These words are easier read, memorized, painted, sang, and graffitied than lived out each day! But this "regarding another more important than yourself" is the basis of a gospel centered marriage. And it's bigger than us. The gospel needs to be the heartbeat of your marriage. If we are to ever love our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:33), we need to practice first in our homes. Serving your spouse well is a stepping stone to being used by God to serve others. Don't get them out of order. This is not just so your marriage can be a happy, joyous union that inspires other to seek Christ, although it will. But rather it is so that God can use us to spread His love to a hurting world. Matthew 25:37 says, "Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?" How can we perfect the skills of serving others if we cannot complete the task of serving our spouse? If we attempt it without love, it will clang like a gong (1 Cor 13:1), and will certainly not be a beat you can dance to. Lay down your need to be right, heard, or first to become an instrument God can use!
Thank you again for joining me on this pursuit of a word washed life. I pray you will carefully examine your heart and sort out the selfishness. Confess it to God and your spouse. Love your spouse well so that the two of you can also learn to love the people in your neighborhood and community! Keep reading, friend!
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It doesn't dishonor others, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrong (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).”