Sunday, May 26, 2013

Opening the Heart

On Ash Wednesday, I said I was praying to open my heart. Be careful what you ask for!

I did have a great many opportunities during Lent to practice vulnerability and open hearted-ness. I became more self-aware of this issue in my life and began to catch myself more quickly when I was putting up my defenses. However, it was landing in the hospital during the last couple weeks of Lent that really drove the lesson home.

It is a surreal experience to be a patient in the ICU when you are conscious, breathing independently and ambulatory. The ICU experience is not really set up for the "walkie talkie" patient, as the staff called me.  With IV meds, a heart monitor, a pulse ox and a blood pressure cuff constantly on, I was really tethered to the bed, so even toileting required calling for help. In addition, every time I moved, my heart rate soared, so they really did not want me to move and they certainly did not want me to try to do anything on my own.

Over the years, I have learned to be more collaborative. I have trained myself to ask for help and include others in decision making. In all honesty though, it is rarely my first instinct. Becoming a team player has been a matter of intensive training for me.* So life as a fairly independent "walkie talkie" had challenges in the ICU. Here's how it looked:

I drop a book on the floor. Ask for someone to please come pick it up.  My meal has arrived. Let the delivery person raise my bed and adjust the table and open the dishes and put the straws in the drinks. My phone is low on battery. Ask someone to plug it in (across the room because ICU patients usually aren't able to use electricity) and then ask for help again to get it back, et cetera, et cetera, all day (and night)  for 9 long days. Attempt to do all of this cheerfully and without apology or arrogance.

Only the Master Designer could implement so perfect an exercise to allow me to open my heart. Yet what I noticed was that once I stopped resisting, I was actually very good at it. I had a few visits which I cherished, and some precious people phoned, but the rest of the time, I lay quietly. It was indeed good "for my heart." I had a lot of time for meditation. I read a bunch. I laid still. I visited with the staff, learned about their lives, got a sense of who they are. I prayed for my children and my husband. I let people help me. I was calm, serene even. It was amazing.

It's a little harder now, back at home, several weeks later. I do need to occasionally remind myself of what I learned. Having a new job has aided that remembrance, though, as several times a day I still need to ask for help. I have had a host of new people come into my life in the past 2 months and I notice how much love I feel for them. It's hard to quantify but I am loving people more and letting it shine more than I was before Lent, I am certain of it.

I can't help but appreciate the irony that when what I was working toward was opening my heart and then I finished the Lenten season in the hospital with heart issues -- you could call it spiritual heart surgery.

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God,
For he is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love,
and relenting in punishment.
(Joel 2:13)

*Learning to be a "team player" has been facilitated over the years by a number of big-hearted people who gently taught me lessons on teamwork while showing respect for my dogged independence.  There is a huge list of such teachers but on my mind at this moment are Paul Tischler, Sharon Parish, Peggy Jarrett, Richard Perry, Brad Brown, Sue Oldham, Briggy Kiddle, Father Sam Hose, Adam Stern, Stephen Rushton, Sheena Pyke, Richard Cox, Tom Morely, Father Edwin Kagoo and Will Kidd. I know the learning wasn't always graceful but rest assured, I still remember and am still learning from your love.