In some chapters of life, the pages just turn slowly from one season and circumstance to another. Other chapters end with a cliffhanger that makes turning the page an urgent need. On July 29, 2011 one chapter ended with these doctor’s words, “You can see your wife and kids if they get here in time, but we’re not waiting.”
I was on a gurney, a bit drugged and a little agitated. I was headed to surgery with 100% blockage of my LAD (left anterior descending) artery. They had put in a heart pump to take the pressure off my heart in order to get me to surgery without having a heart attack.
My life changed forever. I was forced to change, if I wanted to live long enough to see two more kids graduate high school. The doctor said, if I changed the way they told me, I may never need to see the inside of the heart hospital again. With that as a motivation, I did change. Heart healthy was my new mantra. Exercise, watching sodium, fat, taking my medication as if each day depended on it. I lost weight and 8 months later, made it to 50 years of age. We celebrated big.
Fourteen months after surgery another chapter turned. Back in the hospital, a graft failed and new blockage showed up. They placed two new stents. Nine months later another new blockage and a new stent. Five months later we did it again. In the heart catheterization lab, they called my name like “Norm” entering Cheers.
The people were great. But the story I thought I was writing for my life was being destroyed page by page. I felt grateful and hopeless. I felt sad and frustrated. I wanted to try and I wanted to stop trying. I was hurt, disappointed and from time to time, angry.
There was a doctor who gave me some hope. He had some good success with people who had chronic disease like I have. I’ll share more of that detail in another blog. But even trying something new didn’t really fix where I was. I needed to hear from God. After all, heart disease and dying before 52 is bad. And God is good. Disease isn’t beyond his power. So, in his powerful goodness, why didn’t he do something different?
As a pastor I’ve been with people as they’ve walked these paths. But this was my path. This was my pain. This was my life. This was my relationship with God. I needed God to come to me and reveal something to me. And so, God turned the page again. In prayer, pain, confusion, Scripture reading, study, reflection and even writing, God spoke. He gave me a new understanding.
First, I was reminded God is writing my story.
He is the author. I am the lead character in Jim Renke’s story. Like Job, it is easy to get a little demanding when I try to reverse the roles. God is not a character in my life. He’s the author. And, as any author knows, the author has a right to do whatever he wants! And if you’ve ever heard author’s speak, they really do love the characters in their stories – even the unlovable ones.
I’m not a robot. I can choose to fight against the author. But I can never become the author. How much more joyful it is when the character recognizes his role and he plays it well.
Second, God is redeeming my story.
We often categorize things of life into bad things and good things. Every story must to have conflict, tension, success and defeat. Every chapter has to have twists and turns and unexpected opportunities. These are the things that make a story good. What God does with these things is he redeems them. Think of how the cross, a symbol of death has become a symbol of life. And even when life’s turns are hard, they are made good.
Over the past 4 years, God took me from the place of seeing my trials as a frustrating distraction to a huge blessing. God has redeemed every pain, every hospital visit, every subsequent stent, every diet change. He has made it good and beautiful. He has used it to shape me and the people around me. He has woven my story together with people I would never have known. And that is beautiful, gracious and kind.
Third, God is walking in my story.
He is an author who also shows up in the story he’s writing. Not like Mel Brooks who often shows up as a bit player in his movies. God steps into my story in a star role. He’s not an observer, he’s active. He’s not incidental, he’s pivotal. He comforts and consoles. He teaches and corrects. He empowers and sacrifices.
There is no page of my story where he isn’t present. He has come in answer to so many prayers in so many tangible ways. And he promises to be there as each new page is turned.
Lastly, God is not done writing my story.
It’s been 19 months since my last stent. But my story isn’t done. All of our stories will be written throughout eternity. There will be more mountains and valleys. There will be more excursions through deserts and lush valleys. There will be more people to love and people who hate me. There will be more physical challenges and opportunities. And as the main character of my story, I will learn, grow, struggle, rejoice, live and love. That is what makes a story great. That is what makes a story good.
What more could I want from my life than a good story? Maybe, just maybe it will be a story worth telling.
“Have I got a story for you.” That is what God said four years ago. And he was right. So, on this fourth anniversary of that glorious day, I thank God for giving me this story to live. And I thank you for being part of it. I pray you find hope and joy in your story. I hope you know the author of your story. He’s waiting to join you in the narrative of your life.
Just by reading you’ve become part of my story! Do you want to be a bigger part of my story, then comment! What part of your story can I share in?