Uncharacteristically, we got a babysitter and cleared our schedule. Guest speakers held a marriage seminar at church decades ago. My husband and I were young parents, healthy and busy, but sponges for information about this marriage/family venture we were starting. We loved to learn everything we could, since we so often felt like we had no idea what we were doing. Something one speaker said that weekend stuck with us….”It’s not if things will fall apart in your life, but when.”
Similarly, a line from a movie we were watching in those years rang in my ears: “You reach the point when life stops giving and starts taking away.”
And finally, from a wise friend of ours, “I used to think life was mostly good with a few rough spots mixed in; now I see that life is mostly hard, with a few happy moments sprinkled in.” I couldn’t, didn’t, believe it then. Life was so full and joyous and fun. The truth is, the speaker, the movie, and my friend were all right. Our joy can be stolen by life itself. More accurately, our view on life. Our focus.
I teach parenting classes for the court system. One of the topics is encouraging our children. We talk about focusing on what they’re doing right, instead of what they got wrong. But it is against human nature. I hold up a doughnut, and ask them to tell me what they see. They always see the hole first.
Teaching college for almost 25 years, I learned to format my tests with answer boxes, a shortcut to grading papers. Especially problems that were worked out. I expected answers neatly written in the box. If the box was empty, it was wrong. In life, we have to practice focusing on what is there, instead of on what isn’t. The enemy knows it is easier for us to see the blank spots on the paper or the hole in the doughnut.
As I live with this disease, I fight every day seeing only the hole in my life. I question my doctors about why I don’t have what I used to have, and I research for ways to get it back. Sometimes, I fail to see the gift that I have been given because all I focus on are the blank spots. That tunnel vision robs me of my joy, just as surely as dreading change and giving in to fear.
Journal entry from last year:
We met with our main cardiologist. She was excited to tell us that the increase in the echo was confirmed! She had an intern with her so she could tell him this “highly unusual” story. She went through my history with the intern and we talked about how I was feeling. I raised several concerns about med side effects. But my main question was whether my heart had healed or whether I was on life support. Did I still have this Left Bundle Branch Block and cardiomyopathy? Am I “me” again?
Her answer went something like this: “This is an amazing recovery. Be grateful and look to the future. At least you have one. How long, no one knows. No, the heart is not healed. Yes, you will always have this disease. You will have this device and be on these meds for the rest of your life. But now you have a ‘rest of your life.’ The meds have strong side effects that you have to deal with. That is a small price to pay for this kind of recovery.” I left that appointment resolved to let the missing parts be missing and focus on what I still have.
By definition, heart failure is a chronic, progressive disease. This is the hole I am dealing with, and it never goes away (the chronic part). It just gets worse (the progressive part). But God never promised me a pain-free life. For most of my life, I assumed He did by looking at the best parts of everyone else’s. But often I don’t know the blank boxes they are staring at. Or the holes they are feeling sucked into.
The God-touched part is this: the doughnut is unique and special because of its hole. Although the hole is not the part that we put pretty sprinkles on, or the part that tastes good, it is what makes it a doughnut. My dad used to tease that if we were buying doughnut holes at the bakery, we weren’t getting much for our money. True, the hole is not the valuable part, but as long as it’s not all we see, it sure helps define the part that is.
Without having had that hole in my life, that blank spot, I would not have been able to identify the parts that matter, at least not this early in my life. I was given a gift to truly see and appreciate what I have. To grasp the joy. This world is not our home, and it was never meant to be. Since God placed eternity in our hearts, we long for things to be perfect. Nothing will be perfect this side of heaven. So, by design, this life does start to take away from all of us, eventually. The key is to savor and enjoy the sweet part that remains… and for those of us embracing eternity, that’s a pretty big treat.
This is great advice for all of us, at any stage of life.