Leading up to about three months ago, I was in pretty good health (or so I thought). Like most fifty-something year old men, I was working during the day and spending time with my family in the evenings—good old, normal life things. Then, in the span of just a few weeks, I went from “normal life” to heart surgery.
In early April of this year, while in the middle of fixing a shower faucet, I pulled a muscle in the middle of my back. Now this was not some little tinge—it was a full-on “stop what you’re doing and lie down on an ice pack” moment. I promptly did so, and decided to see my doctor the following day. That evening, I noticed some unusual shortness of breath, but I chalked it up to the pulled muscle. When I saw my doctor the next day, I mentioned the extra shortness of breath. My doctor asked if I wanted to see the cardiologist just to make sure there was nothing to be concerned about. I said, “Sure.” And that was that.
The cardiologist looked at my EKG and told me it was NOT okay. Shortly thereafter, I had a very short and unpleasant stress test which revealed a significant blockage. When the cardiologist did my angiogram two days after that (hoping to do a stent), I heard him say, “Well, we can’t fix that here.” That evening, I arrived at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. The following morning (Saturday April 29th), I had a single bypass to fix the 99% blockage in my main artery!
Fast forward several months later. I’m back at work, doing well and my health is trending in the right direction. And I’m feeling much better!
You may be thinking to yourself, “That’s all fine and good, and I’m glad the guy is feeling better; but what does any of this have to do with my music ministry?”
I’m glad you asked. As many of you can also testify, having a significant health issue can provide a clarity and perspective that we may not notice till we’re put in the position of being flat on our backs. We’re reminded of the fragility of life and of our innate helplessness. God reminds us He is still God, and that He is faithful to renew our hearts and minds (as well as our bodies) all along the way. Here are a few things I’ve learned (and am still learning) through this life experience. I hope these provide some encouragement for you today.
Don’t ignore your health
Those of us in ministry have a strong tendency to take care of others to the detriment of taking care of our own health. This is true whether you are a full-time minister or a “part-time” bi-vocational minister. Between hospital visits, funerals, weddings, counseling with folks, meetings, rehearsals, studying for and planning services, leading services, church events and family time, it’s easy to wear oneself out. Exercise and eating right are usually out of the question.
If you are not exercising at all, start by walking a bit each day. In no time at all, you’ll be walking a mile or two per day, and will feel much better.
Eating right can be a little tricky for some of us (especially if we’re not too fond of salads). The key is to make better choices one step at a time—a serving of fruit instead of cookies, a serving of green veggies instead of chips, water instead of a soft drink.
Of course, watch your weight and blood pressure. You’ll be a better minister if you’re a healthier person.
One of the first things I remember after waking up from my surgery is that I wasn’t worried about anything. To be fair, I was on quite a bit of “I don’t care” medicine. Even so, I distinctly remember thinking, “Why do we worry so much?”
In the grand scheme of things, most of what we tend to worry about is not worth the energy we expend in worrying. Studies have shown that the vast majority of what we worry about never happens! Instead of worry, which is detrimental to our hearts, Scripture encourages us to live a life of faith:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
Allow others to minister to you
Many of my friends visited the hospital, called, texted and sent cards while I was recovering from surgery. I was encouraged by so many folks praying for me. I even had a cousin, who I haven’t seen in years, send me a get well card every other day for a month. At home, the amount of help I received from my family every day for weeks was just unimaginable, and a huge blessing.
We get so busy doing ministry that we tend to forget to allow others to use their God-given gifts to encourage us. Remember to humbly receive ministry from others. As my mother used to say, “Allow others the blessing of being able to minister to you.”
The Cardiac Care Unit is not necessarily a place that’s full of joy. Many of those who are patients are there due to serious heart attacks. The medical staff literally deals with life and death situations daily. Every day, I prayed that God would allow me to show joy to those overly-stressed staff members.
As you go about your day—with church members, restaurant staff, neighbors—remember that many of them are lacking joy. Strive to be one who shares God’s joy with others.
Something really special happened on the morning of my heart surgery. As I was being wheeled down the hall toward the operating room, I heard quite a ruckus. (My dad would say there was lots of “whooping and hollering”). I asked the nurse who was wheeling me toward the room if someone was having a birthday party. She said, “No. That’s your surgical team. They know you’re coming.”
I was blown away! My eyes welled up and a lump formed in my throat. In fact, just writing about it causes the same reaction. This group of people, who did not know me personally, were excited about fixing my heart and giving me a chance to live a longer life.
I want to close with two things learned from that particular experience. May we live each day in these truths.
Christ has given us the victory
When the surgical team cheered, it’s almost as if they were expecting victory before they began. Of course, not every heart surgery goes as expected; but the team goes in with confidence that they have the skill to do their best in every circumstance.
Our Lord has conquered death, hell, and the grave. We don’t have to live every day as if it’s a chore. And we don’t have to minister with no power. It’s time that God’s Church stands and ministers in confidence, knowing that God has the ability to change hearts!
Our unique privilege
The group of people who worked on my heart continue to have an impact on my life, even though I may never meet most of them. In fact, I have thought daily about what the surgical team did for me when they cheered. If I had any apprehension going into surgery, it was replaced with the joy I heard in their voices.
And as I’ve continued to recover, God has shown me something else. Perhaps the members of the surgical team were excited because they realized the tremendous privilege they have of repairing damaged hearts.
As Christians, we not only have the privilege, but the unique calling, of impacting the lives of others for the Kingdom of God. As we are faithful to minister to others, the Great Physician is doing the work of healing hearts, not just for now, but for eternity. May our hearts proclaim His glory to the nations!
In the words of Psalm 105:1-3,
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.