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Tension

Around this time last year, I was getting ready for a road trip. I was hoping to see my brother in Pennsylvania, maybe a few others in the area, and visit a couple of friends in Ohio. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned. I decided the day before to have a heart attack instead. I decided to have a couple of blocked veins forced open. At least I still got Thursday and Friday off from work. That’s something.

It’s hard to imagine it’s been a year since my “event”. It sounds like the prom when I say it like that. So far, the recovery has been fairly routine. This means I’m taking the medicines, and running the tests, and according to my Cardiologist, all is as it should be. I’m not sure I trust him, but what can you do?

Well, I can get nervous, a lot. Maybe I’m not as nervous as I was in the beginning, but I have days where I wonder if I’m about to “give up the ghost”. Now, there’s an on-the-nose, appropriate phrase for you. I have lots of stray pains that don’t even remotely resemble one iota of the sharp and growing pain I had last year that precipitated my “episode”. Now that I don’t know my body as well I thought, who knows what the next serious pain feels like, or what’s it going to do to me.

I’ve also had quite a lot of “buyer’s remorse” since that day. What I mean is that I’ve lost friends to heart attacks and other illnesses, and seen even more friends permanently incapacitated as result of some other horrendous and sudden condition that comes upon them. It really is hard for me to grasp that I’m the one that gets the break, and no one else. I’m the one that gets to walk around with chest pain for hours, and then take a leisurely drive to the emergency room, because “maybe” something’s going on, but not before I eat dinner first. I know all the things about God’s timing, and knowing the number of our days, hairs on our head, etc., but it still doesn’t make it an easy pill to swallow, and thanks to my new condition I’m up to five of them.

Despite all that, I’m grateful to still be here. I’m grateful I can take air in my lungs. I’m grateful to love my wife still and see my children home and safe. I was grateful to be able to continue helping with the ministry work of my former church, Epiphany.

But… I live in the tension of all of that. I’m perpetually nervous, undeserving, and yet grateful. I feel like my time was up yesterday and yet grateful for my next breath.

I don’t know what the statistics are of men who have heart attacks and how it affects their life.  I imagine the typical “wake-up call” to get your act together before it’s too late. When my father found out he had cancer of the larynx, he stopped smoking and drinking almost immediately. He had to have his voice box removed, but he adjusted for a time. He lost his “beer belly” and eventually replaced it with a “food belly”. He never went back to smoking, but he did go back to drinking. When he finally did die (of lung cancer years later) it was a catalyst for my mother to stop smoking. Another “wake-up call”.

My problem is that I’m a notorious late sleeper, who has his snooze-button taped down or ripped off. I can’t be the only one.              

The heart attack was a stark warning sign for me that something had to change, and it did…. At least for a little while. In the beginning, all I could do is take it seriously. I remember taking my first slow walk around the mall by myself, wondering even then if I was doing too much too soon. I watched what I ate and paid close attention to how my body was healing and responding to the slight but increasing activity. I was fearful, but I soon went back to work and got right back into routine.

Good AND Bad.

Routine lulls you into a false sense of security, it makes you nostalgic for normal. As I felt better with no real side effects, I allowed myself to enjoy some of my favorite things, mostly food related. I felt emboldened by being able to eat like I used to and dove in deeper.  So instead of the occasional infraction, I ate the occasion salad.

The reality is everyone, Christian or not, even the best Christian, returns to some form of vomit to feast once again, and there are lots of types of vomit. Mine, more than nearly anything else, is the abundance of food. Good tasting, greasy, fat-filled unhealthy food.  

And I ate, and gained weight, and the lockdowns came, and I keep eating. I exercised and tried to focus, even lost a little weight, but I kept returning to that vomit. So here I am, 15 pounds heavier and somewhat physically unhealthier than when I had my “thing” a year ago.

What an analogy for the struggles of a Christian or anyone with a “jones” they can’t shake? We feel like we have control over it, we’ve finally turned a corner, but there it is, my sin is not dead. It’s surely alive, living on the inside, roaring like lion. (Apologies for any possible copyright infringement)

There will be a day, when my body, my sin, will no longer be as forgiving, much of it simply a result of entropy-of us winding down year after year-maybe helped along by any number of vices that cut some of the years away.  One day it will all catch up to me. I’m sure this past year, I helped cut off a year or two. God does know the number of my days, I’m sure he already factored in my still-sinning nature into his calculations.

I’ve recently begun the process of “beating my body into submission” once more. hoping that God has ALSO already factored in my hopefully future successes as well. We’ll see where it leads.  

As I said earlier, I live in the tension of it all. The good and bad, the apprehensiveness and struggle, the gratefulness for a God that forgives me in immeasurable numbers. That’s really all I have to hang my hat on.

The tension today, as I close, leaves me feeling like the great tax collector beating his chest outside the temple, begging God to forgive him, even as I already know he does. More tension.

More of who I am.

A forgiven mess, undeserving.

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