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Change and Choosing to Live with Heart Disease

There is a difference between having heart disease and choosing to live with it.

Having heart disease is passive.

Living with heart disease embraces change and celebrates life. Some causes of heart disease are related to genetics or biology, and those are the cards we are dealt at birth. My other risk factors increased because of my choices: my diet, weight gain, and lack of exercise.

It became a song that repeated itself, a verse each year, same song, different year, could be better but it got a lot worse. And finally, that song erupted like peanut butter, jelly, and a baseball bat. Except it was weight gain, lack of exercise, and a heart attack.

To choose to continue to sing that song would be having heart disease and continuing to make the mistakes that got me here.

Choosing to live with heart disease is to change those mistakes and resolve to do better. For me, those changes include:

  • Eating a lower fat, lower salt diet.
  • Drinking water instead of southern sweetened iced tea and coffee. I inhaled iced tea. And I probably drank half a pot of coffee a day. Now, I’m down to a cup of coffee a day. And each day begins with a pint of water.
  • Scheduling my diet to include fruits and vegetables. I always ate them before, but now it’s imperative. The more fruits and vegetables I eat, the less room my diet has for cheese, fried chicken, and Cheetos.
  • Logging my diet. Today is Day 26 of logging My Fitness Pal to track what I eat and measure the portions.
  • Exercising today. I can’t procrastinate till tomorrow, which I had done for years. Now it has to happen, and logging it into My Fitness Pal gives accountability for me to make sure it happens.

Those are just the steps in choosing to live with heart disease. When I follow those steps, I’m really venturing on the real path, which is is celebrating life and making the most of the time I have with family and friends.  If I stray from these steps, each step I take in the wrong direction leads me to not simply having heart disease but choosing to let heart disease have me and take me sooner.

I’ve heard that some addiction recovery programs say you have to choose to end the addiction for yourself. For me, the most powerful motivation for me to make and continue lifestyle changes is different. I want them to have more time with my husband and kids, so we can build memories together.

Then comes my challenge to you. If you don’t have heart disease, choose to live without heart disease!

Make healthier choices, starting today, RIGHT NOW, and make sure that your path never has to follow my new journey.

Broken Glass Lessons

Twelve years ago, when our home and business burned, windows in our kitchen blew out from the extreme heat of the fire inside.

During the recovery, as we worked through packout, and then demolition, and finally rebuilding, at times we would discover another piece of broken glass in our back yard from those windows that blew into shards across our lawn.

By “coincidence,” the first time we discovered it, Richard and I both happened to find tiny pieces of broken glass in our back yard on the same day.  And when we found the pieces, we were both overwhelmed with the same message:

“The fire was terrible. But that fire prevented something far worse and more tragic from taking place.”

Since we both heard the same message independently, we took it as a message of comfort from our guardian angels. It was a little easier to work through the disaster after that. For months after the fire, when we went into our back yard, we would happen on another piece of broken glass. Each time, we took it as a reminder of what we were told.

We don’t know what the worse would have been and don’t need to know.

This week, as I worked through inconveniences, I again remembered the broken glass. It gave me hope that we can work through this year’s problems and overcome them with God’s help. He can take our present circumstances and make something new.

Broken glass isn’t a reminder of past destruction. It’s a reminder of divine protection and better things to come.

Confessions of a Snow Shoveling Nazi

This blog is a little nostalgic because my days of snow shoveling have come to an end. (Which may become a cause of celebration for my family.)

Confession: I am a snow shoveling Nazi who insists on a spotlessly shoveled driveway and walks. What made me that way?

During the terrible winters of 1977 and 1978, I was in middle school and had a paper route. My route was one on foot, and I appreciated those who shoveled their walks so much that I resolved to have well shoveled walks the rest of my life. For those who have to make deliveries in the snow, those shoveled walks give them respite. We live in an urban neighborhood that still has sidewalks – though more people seem to saunter down the middle of the street than use a real sidewalk.

So I embraced the perfectly shoveled walk with the zeal of Martha Stewart and grace of Clark Griswold. My children have grown up with the obsessively snow-shoveling mama who was adept at the fine art and science of a well-cleaned walk. The only winters I didn’t shovel were when I was pregnant and one year post op after surgery.

When I shoveled snow, I felt like Momzilla Versus the Snow Mound. And I always won at the end of the movie.

Until now. What makes a driveway well shoveled?

  1. Shovel early and often. If you shovel snow throughout a storm, there is less to shovel at one time. It can be easier to manage when it’s not in huge drifts. There have been times in my life I’ve been known to shovel at midnight, at 3 a.m., and again at 5 a.m. Part of it was to not only make the shoveling easier but also to make sure we always had the cleanest walks shoveled first in the neighborhood.
  2. A good shovel is worth its weight. I pushed snow more than I threw it. This reduced the effort but worked effectively.
  3. Shovel to the ground. Don’t leave a little at the base. Get it to the sidewwalk or concrete. If you do this, your walks will also melt faster as soon as the temperature gets close to 32 degrees.
  4. Shovel the walk, the whole walk, and nothing but the walk. When you shovel your walk, if you make the effort to do the whole walk instead of a shovel wide path, you decrease the likelihood of drifting.
  5. Clear cars completely. Make sure not only cars are cleared but the paths to get to them are as well. What’s the point in shoveling a driveway if people have to climb over snow to get into the car?
  6. Dress warmly and stay dry. Nuff said – let common sense prevail. Layers are a very good thing.
  7. Two can shovel faster than one. As soon as my kids could walk, they had toddler sized shovels to “help.” Granted, their early help was more play than work – but it built a habit I hope continues.
  8. Finish with hot chocolate. Make sure you have marshmallows too.
When the walks were done well, birds would flock into puddles as they desperately sought water. The funniest part for me is watching our cat; he likes to venture in the snow but prefers to walk only on the shoveled walks and driveway so he doesn’t get his paws snowy.

So now I’m recovering from a heart attack and have been told there is no longer a snow shovel in my future. Under 50, and I’m already a has been shoveler.

With this storm, my kids shoveled for me. I gritted my teeth and said nothing as they chose to sleep in. No shoveling before dawn. But they did go out and do it. They shoveled the whole walk and did a good job. Perhaps something that I taught them will steak.

Part of me suspects a snow blower may one day be in my future. When I told a friend of mine this, he commented if I bought one it might now snow for 10 years. To which I observed that it would then be an excellent preventative investment.

What I will miss most of my snow shoveling was savoring the silence of a snowstorm, as the flakes muffled sound and for a few moments, I felt like the world was at my footsteps, waiting for me to rush at it with my shovel.

 

 

Singing Turn to Me

Church music done well cuts through the distracting stuff and brings our souls closer to God.

Tonight, as we sang “Turn to Me,” I had one of those moments when we are called by name, after which nothing is the same.

Turn to me, oh, turn and be saved,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am God.’
‘There is no other, none beside Me. I call your name.’

As we sang, I flashed to my heart attack two weeks ago, when I lay on the operating table about to have an emergency cath, which begins in an artery in the leg. When I flinched, I was told,

“If you move your leg like that again you could die. Stay still.”

For the next hour, as the cardiologist worked, I stayed still. From my experiences with PUBS 16 years earlier, I knew how not to flinch during a surgical procedure.

Tonight’s hymn continued, and my attention returned to the song:

‘I am He that comforts you. Who are you to be afraid?’
‘Flesh that fades is made like the grass of the field, soon to wither.’

Then I flashed back to the operating room. Something wasn’t going well. Someone told me to cough. After I did, the tension decreased. “Why did you want me to cough?” I asked them. They told me my heart rate had slowed, but after the coughing it was doing ok. During my later recovery, I learned that my heart rate had slowed to 20.

I continued thinking while singing – on that operating room table, I didn’t know if I would ever sing in church again. What if this were my last Sunday on earth and the last time I would ever have a chance to sing to the Lord in worship?

So I began to sing with gusto…savoring today’s song and giving every note I could sing my heart and soul. I was called by name to sing tonight – not as a cantor, not as a leader, but as the quiet lady sitting in the pew who was neither standing nor kneeling but sitting, to preserve energy during my recovery.

And the song concluded,

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,  and look at the earth down below.
The heavens will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment.

If we open our eyes, every single day, we are each called to sing a song, where we are, with everything we have at that moment. Make the most of that moment and the others that follow.

One More Day

One thing my heart attack taught me is that I am not invincible. “I am not having chest pains because I don’t have time for them” doesn’t wish them away. No matter how important the things I want to get accomplished are, I cannot ignore my human frailties.

Now, each morning when I wake, my first thought is a prayer – “Thank you God for one more day.”

That changes my perspective completely. If today is our last day – and I don’t believe in any silly Mayan prediction – what will we do with this day to make it count and make the most of it? How will we harness our thoughts and our words, what we do, and what we fail to do?

What are really the most important things we need to do today? Focus on those and think of everything else as gravy.

Seek out and seize joy wherever you find it. And share it with whomever your life touches today.

If we’re lucky, then tomorrow, we can again say, “One more day.”

Love’s the Perspective that Matters

Talking to my kids on a cell phone for moments before they took me for a cath, immediately following my heart attack, has changed my perspective. Things that mattered to me don’t.

Even if someone close to you does something that is stupid and out of line, is it worth getting angry about? Can it be fixed? Is there permanent damage? If you had a deathbed conversation with this person, the last you would ever have, would you talk about it?

If no one was hurt, it can be fixed easily, and you wouldn’t bring it up in a deathbed conversation, maybe it’s just time to let it go. If injustice was done, ask God to fix it.

The sooner you let it go, the sooner it no longer has power over you. And then you can enjoy the here, the now, and the gift of today’s joys.

If something terrible happens, where we see evil that happens in our world, it can also be a reminder to us to show our love for those with whom we are close.

Faith, hope, and love — the greatest of these is love.

The 7 Days of an Angry Irish Prayer

Yes, I have an Irish temper, which is most profound when roused in defense of those I love.

When that happens, I have the most interesting chats with God, all attuned to my wanting to fix the problem now and be the instrument of divine vengeance against the oppressor. A timeline of my prayers as I wrestle….

Day 1: God, I can’t frickin’ believe it! How could you let something like this happen? Please restrain me before I march myself over there and say exactly what I think and give that jerk a punch in the gut.

Day 2: God, I trust in your divine judging and timing. My only request is that you let the true colors of that no good such and so show themselves and that good people get protected from the likes of him. I’m still ready, willing, and able to be the instrument of your justice. Give me a sign, and I’ll go stop it. I’m thinking to the tune of peanut butter jelly time – “Mary Biever justice time, Mary Biever justice time. Mary Biever justice and a baseball bat.”

Day 3: Thank you Lord for restraining my Irish temper. I no longer want to punch him in the boxing ring, but I can use my words instead. Written words. I’ve written a first draft of just what to say and send. Let me know if it’s ok.

Day 4: Are you there, God? It’s me, Mary. The one who told you about that problem and the bully who needs to be stopped and the innocent victim who needs to be protected. What time frame are you on? I’m waiting….

Day 5: Lord, this is wearing on me. Show me the path you want me to take. How do you want me to handle it? The bully’s still at it. Is it time now?

Day 6: God, this whole problem is horribly frustrating. Can you show me some way – any way – that a situation like this can be used for good purpose? I just don’t see it.

Day 7: God. What? Are you talking to me? What is that? You say you’re going to handle this your way? I gave it to you, and now I need to give it to you? And I need to remove this problem from my head and think about the people I’m supposed to care for – as in my family? Are you sure? Well, if you say so….

And with that answer, I resolved to let go of the problem and trust that God will handle it better than I ever could.

As each hour passed, I felt as though the weight of this terrible problem was gradually being taken from my shoulders. For the first time in a week, I could breathe.

So I guess you could say – on the 7th day, I rested.

 

For the Guys Who Get the Glasses

Tonight in church, the pianist started to play before the service began. That’s when I saw the unseen action few will ever know.

Her husband quietly walked up behind her and set her reading glasses beside her. She had apparently left without having them, and he went back to the car to get them for her.

She put them on, and I doubt 2 other people noticed the exchange.

The first reason I noticed is  because of my own relationship with my reading glasses because I’m determined that I’m too young for bifocals. Sometimes I forget them, and things become a struggle.

The second is a hat tip salute to all the guys who get the glasses and behind the scenes people who make things work seamlessly. We often praise the performer, the person who is front center stage. But we may forget the person who build the stage, who cleans the stage, and who manages the money so the organization stays afloat. Their roles are all vital.

And I know how many times my own bacon has been saved by my husband. He’s found my reading glasses, found my keys, and help me find my way home when I’ve been hopelessly lost.

So the next time you go somewhere, look for the guys who get the glasses, who prepare the programs, and who do the thousands of behind the scenes things we all enjoy but sometimes forget to appreciate. And thank them.

When Rudolph Quit Playing the Reindeer Games

Another version of Rudolph’s story.

When Rudolph was little, he wasn’t very good at the other reindeer games. Dasher was the star, the leader. He took poor Rudolph in and told him, “You don’t have what it takes, but do what I say, and I’ll take care of you.”

So for a long time, Rudolph stumbled through the games, following Dasher’s lead. He was grateful to Dasher and would do whatever Dasher needed.

Even as he tried, Rudolph continued to fail at the games, and his well-being on the reindeer playground was utterly dependent on Dasher’s benevolence. The other reindeer laughed at Rudolph but tolerated him because of Dasher’s protection.

One day, Rudolph got tired of playing reindeer games. They  bored him, he had never liked them, and he wanted to do something different.

So he didn’t go out to play. Dasher went to him, “Why aren’t you there? You need to get out there. Do you realize how much trouble it is for me to keep you in the game and how much harder it will be when you’re late?”

Rudolph told him, “I quit.”

Dasher pranced angrily. “I didn’t tell you to do that.”

Rudolph continued on his path to do something different.

Then Dasher raced to him and patted him on the head saying, “I understand sometimes we make foolish mistakes. This is yours. If you turn back right now, I’ll forgive you and we’ll make everything well again. I want to help you succeed.”

Rudolph continued walking away.

Dasher bounded in front of him, trying to get Rudolph back into the game.

Rudolph went his own way.

Once Rudolph was on his own, he began to play games with his red nose – how to make it light, how to direct the light, and how to play his own games with it. He taught himself to fly with his red nose flashing.

All was well, and Rudolph was on his own.

One foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came and asked him to lead the reindeer.

When Rudolph went into Santa’s stable, Dasher went to him and told him, “All is forgiven. Rely  on me, and I’ll show you the ropes.”

Rudolph told him, “Thanks. But I’m fine on my own.”

When the sleigh ride began, Rudolph lit his nose, his way. All the games he had played had perfected the skills he needed to save that Christmas.

The question is – if you’re the one with a red nose that’s different from all the other reindeer, what are you doing to nurture your talents?

Your singular talent could be just the one that will one day be needed to save everyone else. It’s the talent you were born to share.

Beyond the Tough Thanksgiving

As I sat in Mass this morning, I reflected on our blessings this year and remembered when times were tougher….

Eleven years ago, we sat together at Mass on Thanksgiving morning, grateful that our burned out home had been rebuilt and we had just moved back into our home. We had only had a refrigerator since that Monday, and we were celebrating our own personal homecoming. Times were still tough; not only our home, but our family business had been hit by the fire.

Then I thought back to a Sunday months before that 2001 Thanksgiving. Our home and business had burned the night before. We knelt that Sunday in the same Church we were in this morning, wearing borrowed clothes, walking in borrowed shoes, unsure of where we would spend the night or how we would provide for our young children.

What do you do when you lose everything, and where do you go?

You slowly rebuild. With hard work, the help of good friends, and the faith of a mustard seed, it is possible to rebuild and start anew. Our faith carried us when we had nothing else upon which to rely. Those young children are now nearly grown. One is in college. The other now stands taller than his father.

On the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, they too gave thanks after their surviving terrible challenges. (Granted, our challenges were nothing compared to theirs.)

Every Thanksgiving morning since our fire, we’ve gone to Mass and I think back and thank God for giving us one. more. year. So long as I am able, we will be there each Thanksgiving morning. Giving thanks is a great way to begin a day of Thanksgiving.

None of us knows what the coming year will bring. It will have its own joys, sorrows, and challenges. Whatever it brings, I know we will not be alone. As Corrie ten Boom once wrote, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

And for that, I am most thankful.

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