Someone recently asked me the story of my heart problems and how I could continue as a missionary despite it. It is a long story involving 4 countries and 9 cardiologist, so I’ll give you the highlights. It starts about 4 years ago when I lived as a missionary in the Philippines. I had some irregular heartbeats when I had a gallbladder attack, but after surgery it seemed to go away. 6 months later I had an emergency appendectomy and nearly died do to a heart problem during surgery. A couple of weeks post-op I began to have daily irregular heartbeats. We saw various doctors in the Philippines and tried a medication, but I wasn’t happy with them and the mediation didn’t work. A few months later we went to Thailand for medical checkups for the family. The cardiologist there told me I was at risk for sudden cardiac death and put me on a serious medication (listed side effects included: blindness, lung damage, death). After a week of thinking I could drop dead at any moment we decided to return to the USA. The cardiologist in FL took me off the medication and diagnosed me with ventricular tachycardia and a mitral valve prolapse with mild-moderate regurgitation. I usually have daily irregular heartbeats where it feels like my heart is racing and skipping beats. Many of them I can ignore. I sometimes feel short of breath. It can cause anxiety sometimes too. When I have a lot of them or a really long one I get really tired. A few times I have felt light headed and nearly fainted. The doctor, and subsequent doctors, told me “you’re fine until you’re not”. So, I am supposed to have yearly checkups, come in when things change and when I’m unsure go to the ER (sometimes ventricular tachycardia can lead to ventricular fiberlation, where the heart beat is so chaotic that it doesn’t supply enough oxygen to the body and if not immediately treated leads to death. So that is why if I am in doubt I should go to the ER, even though at this point it isn’t likely to happen). At one point when things were more frequent we tried a 3rd medication to no avail. Then we discussed surgery with a heart surgeon. He said I wasn’t a good candidate. Last year I saw another cardiologist here in Japan and he looked into ablation, but decided that it wasn’t necessary. So there you have my long heart story. I’m okay until I’m not! Lol!
All of this heart drama lead to a lot of thinking and praying about what life is all about. There were times when we really believed (even if it turned out later not to be true) that I could die at any moment. We realized that for all of us, whether we have a heart problem or not, the number of days we live is really out of our hands. Anyone of us could die suddenly in a car accident, for example. God is the one who sustains us. My husband and I talked and thought a lot about how we want to live our lives. We’ve decided that it isn’t just about how much time we have here on earth, but about how you spend that time. I want to spend it being faithful to what God has called me to do. I want to make an impact on eternity. Life on earth is but a breath and eternity with God awaits me. I’m living now for a better then.
In all honesty, it isn’t easy. I do feel sometimes like why did God call me, with my medical issues, my family’s medical problems and all my personal shortcomings to Japan? Surely there was someone better out there to do this! I get frustrated. I have culture shock moments. I miss having an oven, and a warm house, and a dryer and Walmart, and inexpensive produce year round. Even more than that, I miss my family. I even have moments of self-pity. I sometimes forget the big picture and start thinking about me instead of focusing on the big God who can do big things with small people. I guess you could say I am really learning that “his grace is sufficient for me and that his power is made perfect in my weakness.” I am so not the perfect missionary!
But there are also times when I look around me amazed that God would allow me to live here and to do this. I have no greater joy than sharing the love of Jesus and what’s more I’ve got people sacrificing their money so that I get to do that! I’ve had moments where I have looked around me and felt moved with compassion for the people of Japan. My heart breaks when I am reminded of the hundreds of people here that are so hopeless that they commit suicide. It drives me to do more to reach them. Besides that, I’ve got hundreds of people praying for me. I can’t tell you how humbling and how powerful it is to get an e-mail from someone saying they are praying for me.
So I’m learning to live with this heart condition. I still make some doctor trips and ER trips as I figure out what is normal for me, but they are happening less frequently now. I am learning to live with my limitations and adapt to my new situation. I remember at one point after my appendectomy praying that all of this medical drama would be over. God said it was not over (in fact it was just before all the heart stuff started) and he lead me to 2 Corinthians chapter 4…
“ But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you… 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4: 7-12, 16-18.
And that is what I’m trying to do, to fix my eyes on what is unseen. I’m not always successful. I’m not a super saint. There are others who have sacrificed more, have great trials, greater faith and greater victories. In the end it doesn’t matter where you live, what you have or how healthy you are. What matters is that you are where God wants you to be, doing what he wants you to do. When you are in that place you find peace.