In My Heart of Hearts

I remember many years ago when John and I were starting to get serious, my mother said, “You don’t want to marry him–his dad died of heart disease.  That could happen to him and you could be left a young widow.”  I remember being wounded by those words.  Who can predict the future?  Who can know what tragedy will befall us or what disease will set in?  Who will lose their way and who will not?  Who will betray us and who will stay true?  Oh, that I would have listened to those words, all the happiness that I would have missed out on.  I am so glad I listened to my heart.

Recently, I have become good friends with my own cardiologist.  It seems that I am the one with a heart problem, not my husband.  Maybe I should have warned my husband not to marry me?  Should we have known that in the future my problem would arise and cancelled all the happiness we have shared and not had our beautiful family?

The way it all happened with me was quite frightening.  It happened all pretty quickly, within just a few days.   It was last fall and on the evening before a major procedure, I insisted we take family photos.  I didn’t want to worry my kids, but insisted that the pictures be taken, arranging them for a Sunday afternoon, when everyone was available.  I needed to know we had these photos, that they would have pictures of us together.

The outcome now is that I have a chronic heart condition.  I’ve wondered, “why me?”  I’ll admit I’m not brave enough to say, “why not me?”  I’m not that cool.  I’m still working on being that cool.  I have a brilliant set of doctors who are taking great care of me and we’re working together to solve the problem.  I’m trying to be patient.  I’m trying to learn some lessons.  I’m learning my limits.  I hate my medications and their side effects.  I don’t like my new routine, but it’s been a good time to reflect and think about my heart–my physical heart, yes, but more so my emotional heart and my spiritual heart.  About all the things it has endured in the past, and what I expect some of the things are that it still must endure in the future.  About how I have been shaped by those experiences and how I hope I can be a better person for what I’m learning now.

What of the little heart-stopping moments in life?  For good or ill?  Or the ones that make our hearts beat faster and faster, like we can’t get enough air?  The ones that make us take inventory of where we are in our journey.  That make us wonder.  That make us pause and breathe a little more slowly.  Are we on the right path?  Do we have enough faith?  Are we strong enough?  Are our relationships where they should be?  Do our children know we love them?  Do our spouses know they are cherished?

Unbelievable, I know, but this year is my fiftieth year.  And, in those 50 years it’s impossible to list all the heart-stopping moments of my life, all the moments where my heart raced so fast I thought it might explode. But, here are some that come in to view, and please, keep in mind, these include some that are both heart-wrenching and heart-gripping for both the happy and the sad.  Moments where I thought my heart would break from utter despair and also burst with total joy.  Moments that scared me so badly I thought I would die of fright.  I guess it’s up to you to decide how well you know me to decide which is which.  They are not in order.

  • in third grade, my little friend, Troy, died of a brain aneurysm 
  • the news that girls were allowed to wear pants to school in sixth grade
  • getting chased by a big white dog on the way to piano lessons
  • being bullied by P.D. at recess in second grade
  • having Mrs. N. check your milk carton in the lunch room
  • when my grandpa died
  • the famous car accident where everyone miraculously survived
  • moving to a new town and having to start going to a new school
  • getting bullied on the bus and standing up for myself
  • getting asked to prom 
  • my mom not letting me go to prom 
  • sliding the car into a ditch on a snowy night, and,
  • my dad covering for me so my mom didn’t find out about it
  • winning the lead in the school play
  • winning awards for school achievements
  • being bullied every week in Sunday school
  • finding out my dad was having an affair
  • being betrayed by a best friend
  • my first date
  • my first kiss
  • getting engaged
  • the day John and I got married
  • my parents getting divorced
  • graduation from college
  • the day my husband graduated from law school
  • John’s first song he wrote for me
  • the day we found out we were going to finally have a baby
  • the day our beautiful son was born
  • moving to our first home
  • our son’s horrible accident
  • our son’s miraculous recovery from that accident
  • finding out we were going to have another baby–this time a little girl
  • the day that beautiful baby girl was born
  • when our daughter starting choking in the car when I was driving, on the freeway
  • when we heard that my dad had had a heart attack
  • the day I got the call that my dad’s wife was sick with cancer
  • when our son opened his mission call
  • the first time the kids won a fiddle contest (actually every time they won)
  • our first trip on a plane as a family 
  • my first plane ride
  • the first time I used my passport
  • the first time I went rappelling
  • river rafting trips
  • the first time I had surgery
  • when my dad’s wife died
  • my river-rafting accident
  • the phone call telling me John had been in an accident and was in an ambulance
  • sending our son on an LDS mission
  • picking our son up at the airport when he returned from his LDS mission (best hug EVER!)
  • the first time our daughter went on a date
  • the first time our kids drove the car alone
  • the whole time I was in the car with my kids while they were learning to drive
  • every time I listen to my husband and kids play their music
  • when I found out people had gossiped about me
  • September 11th
  • when I decided to forgive my parents

I realize it’s kind of a mishmash.  I could easily add hundreds of things, such as those that are just as important and defining, but are either too personal, special, or painful to share here, and so shall remain private. All of these together have shaped my heart, molded it maybe, making it beat the way it does, or not beat the way it’s supposed to, or maybe even healed it where it was previously broken so now it does work better than it could have or should have.

If doctors are now testing junior high-age children for atherosclerosis, what does that say about our culture?  And, if it is already part of our culture and our diet and our heredity to have hardening of the arteries showing up in young teens, what about other signs of heart issues?  I had symptoms as a young girl, but no one ever took me seriously.  “It’s just growing pains,” they’d say, or my personal favorite, “well, she’s just growing so fast.”  It doesn’t matter now.  Thankfully, doctors know things now that they’ didn’t know back then.

Do you think it’s possible to die of a broken heart?  I do.  I’m convinced it could happen given the right circumstances.  There have been times in my own life where I was sure it could happen to me, where I thought I couldn’t recover from things I thought were truly heart-breaking at the time.  Much to my surprise, I was stronger than I thought and I rallied to live another day.  I’m so grateful, too.  There are things, though, that I’m not sure I could or would not want to survive.  Maybe I’m a coward, but I wouldn’t want to be the only surviving member of my family.  If it’s only me left, then no thanks.  What’s the point?  I can’t do it on my own–I’ll tell you that right now.  I have three reasons for living–my husband, my son and my daughter.  Take those away and I don’t want to be here.

Well, if you can die of a broken heart, can you get better, or heal because of loving kindness?  Maybe.  I’m pretty sure you can. It’s a curious thought.  A few weeks ago I was at church, feeling a little sorry for myself after a rather difficult week of not feeling well.  I told an acquaintance that I was having some health problems to which she responded, “well, you look perfectly fine!”  and went on her merry way.  I’m sure she meant no harm and probably even meant to console me by telling me I didn’t look sick, but as I thought about it I thought of the words in the hymn, “in the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.”  I started to look around me and wonder about all the hidden sorrows that people were surely carrying that I couldn’t see.  Was I assuming that just because someone looked okay that they were?  Surely I was guilty of that myself.

In the fairy tale “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, a little boy is wounded with a fragment of a broken magical mirror and has a sliver of it trapped in his eye and in his heart.  The mirror is the tool of an evil troll, the Devil, who has devised this tool as a means to get the people to see others as they are not, and to judge them wrongly.  As long as the splinter of the broken mirror is in one’s eye or in one’s heart, they cannot see or feel honestly about others.  It is only through his sister’s love, through her compassionate tears falling on him as she cries over him, melting the ice in his heart and in his eye that the little boy is healed.  The story is a good one.  It illustrates that it is possible to have a heart so wounded that we lose our ability to see our fellowmen as they really are and also to see ourselves as we really are.  It also depicts that simple compassion, kindness and love, can and does have the power to heal our hearts and help us see ourselves and others in a new and honest way.

If I only think about the heart-racing moments in my life that were difficult and brought me pain, I can only remember the despair.  However, if I focus only on the the heart-stopping moments that brought me sheer elation and happiness, then I am filled with gratitude and joy, love and humility.  I know we must and do all experience both in our lives, both the difficult and the wondrous. We need to in order to grow and learn.  But, as I have pondered over these last few months about my own blessed little heart and the 50 years it has been pumping and working and carrying me along, I have decided that in order to help it along to get me to at least the 80-year mark, I need to focus more on the heart-stopping happy moments that have defined me and less on the moments that have been hard for me.  Now, I definitely would not trade the difficult moments–make no mistake–for they have shaped me into the person I am today.  I would rather they had not been so difficult though, for some of them were much too hard to bear, but they were mine and I accept them.  I learned and am still learning from them and I am truly grateful.  But, I would like to have more happy moments and I believe they are there for the asking and may even be there in the hard moments if we just look for them, for I have found some of them in my own trying times.  I know that in fact I have had MANY MORE HAPPY TIMES than hard times!  What a blessed realization!

Hearts, I am convinced, are miracles in and of themselves.  How they do their jobs day in and day out I do not understand.  Only God would know, for He is the one who made our hearts.  But I do know this.  My heart will only beat until God decides it should not beat any longer.  I surely do not want to waste those beats.  I fear I have already wasted too many.  Wasted too many on wishing I had done this or that or been better at this or that.  Well, if this is my 50th year, and it is, then I’d better get to it, kicking it, so to speak.  No time to waste any more.  I’d better make sure I’m as strong and faithful as I think I am.  The hard times are not over.  John and I are getting older.  There will be fun times coming with that, right?  Someone said, “gettin’ old ain’t for sissies.”  If that’s true, I’d better get un-sissied.  There will be weddings for our kids and the in-laws and the grand-kids and all the stuff that comes with that.  We need to be strong for our kids when they deal with their problems, because we know they will come.  What will the the world be like for them and their children?  I need to be strong and ready to help them through those times, but also ready and present, and excited for them to help them celebrate their successes and their joys, because there will definitely be more of those.  There is so much that John and I have to look forward to–traveling, serving missions, being grandparents, just hanging out together.  The party is just getting started!

Just when I thought I could sit back and rest my little heart and wait for it to heal, I realized I’m in a dead heat to get better as fast as I can.  Time waits for no one and there’s too much at stake.  My kids might be adults and they are independent and smart and talented people, but they still need their mom and dad and John still needs me.  We all still need each other.  We might be a small family, but we’re strong and we’re fierce.  We love each other and we’ve got each others’ backs.  You don’t mess with one of us and not feel it from the rest of us, and likewise, you don’t love one of us and not feel the love from all of us in return.  These are my favorite people and I need to be here for them.  I need to be ready for what’s still coming—all that’s going to be a challenge, but most importantly, all that’s going to be gloriously wonderful and beautiful, as God’s blessings to us, for I know His arms are open wide and He wants so much to bless us.

Last weekend I did a little work outside with my husband.  It was long overdue as we missed getting our fall clean-up done, mostly because of my health issues and all the other things happening around our house last year when the leaves started to fly.  I looked at the little daffodils that were blooming and the tulips that were getting ready to open.  The leaves on the trees are there, getting ready to green up and say hello.  Soon my trees will be all dressed in white flowers, fragrant and beautiful, reminding me that it is a new season of joy.  Time to spring into action, to be happy and joyful.  To anticipate goodness and great things to come.  To remember my blessings and the gifts that come from knowing I have a Savior, even Jesus Christ who loves me and wants to help me get back to my real home.

In my heart of hearts I know this:

1.  I have a physical heart that beats.  It is a heart that keeps me alive every day.  I am grateful for this heart.  It lets me do the things I do with my body and lets me be with my family, the people I love.

2.  I also have an emotional heart.  It has feelings and experiences things deeply.  It loves even though it has been hurt, and it loves truly and fiercely those it loves most.

3.  I also have a spiritual heart.  The one I am most grateful for.  The heart that knows God is real, that I truly belong to Him, that He is my Father and that I can return to Him when this life is done, if I am a good girl.  This is the heart that knows that Jesus Christ died for me and paid for my mistakes so I can return to my Father.  Jesus did that for me because He loves me.  This is my favorite heart, my heart of hearts.  This heart is the one that tells me my physical heart can heal, even if it is only in God’s time or only in God’s way.  I am okay with that.

In my heart of hearts.

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