I’m writing a series of stories by which to explain myself so that the people associated with me don’t have to keep doing it. My hope is to eventually publish this as a book that will help perhaps some people gather some of my wisdom without having to live through my lessons. Please do send me any of your free and clear comments should you wish to do so.
For one thousand terrifying days and nights I endured without expectation of tomorrow – I felt I had no choice but to keep you all at arm’s length for the coming day that would be my last.
I dedicate this farcical collection of moderately well remembered stories to the people in my life. If I knew that you were my future, I would choose my horrifying past.
For many years now, I have been trying very hard to die alone. One night in the fall of 2015, I fell to my knees on a gym mat, unsure of how I had suddenly lost my strength. I stood and tried to resume the fight, but one of the three blockages in the coronary arteries of my heart had shattered and completely blocked the flow of blood to that essential muscle. Several days later, I was wheeled out of the hospital not knowing why things had gotten so bad or how they were expected to turn out. The only thing I knew was that I had permanently broken the core of my being, my hamburger heart.
In the months that followed, I would spend most of my time huddled shivering under blankets, covered in deep bruises and bodily fluids, passed out on the twelve foot drag-trail between my bed and my toilet. Sleep would stalk me angrily in the dark, leaving me more exhausted every time I opened my eyes. Death sat patiently in my room, watching gamely each time I lost consciousness and my head swung dangerously at corners of furniture whenever my body would fall uselessly to the ground. All along with my heart hammering away, unable to maintain a consistent or recognizable rhythm, obnoxiously pushing the life through my veins while I thrashed in stinking impotence at the chronic pain and wild mood swings from raging hormones.
Every so often I’d have a visitor – a friend from the life I could barely remember. I would do my best to pretend like I wasn’t dying. I’ve learned that people that like you tend to get upset when they think you’re dying. One of them noticed me grimace and asked me if I was having any symptoms. A few years before, I read an article that listed ten symptoms of major heart issues that stated if you had any three you should go immediately to the ER. For years I would do my best to ignore a minimum of six at any time. I told her no as I rolled off the couch as the world spun and did my best to smile on the floor.
I did my best to keep my distance. I tried not to get too involved in anyone’s lives. I didn’t really have very much nice to say anyway. I drained my savings and dragged myself to dozens of doctor’s appointments, rehabilitation sessions, and struggled to stay conscious for more than four hours at a time. One of the symptoms of heart disease is a sense of impending doom and I awaited it alone.
Where It All Started
My first encounter with young evangelical Christians was in my first year away in college at Texas A&M University. Like all young college students they were bright, cheerful, and eager to experience a world away from their homes and families, their first stop typically being a college dormitory. These students brought with them the idea that their faith should be shared and that they had a theological duty to bring others to their own beliefs.
One of these students invited me to join their group in a prayer walk around campus. The walk started out fairly mild as the group introduced me to all of the features of the enormous campus and the group stopped to say a brief prayer for all of the other students, staff, and residents of the school and surrounding town.
As the night wore on, the prayers started to get a little judgmental. One prayer was for all of the ‘hypocrites’ at the student gym for their pride and glorification of their bodies. Another was for the ‘gluttony’ of the students at the dining hall. Then someone handed me a bible and asked me to give a prayer. I opened the bible and thumbed through the pages until I found one I thought needed to be read:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”Book of Matthew, Excerpt from Chapter 6
My sponsor wasn’t immediately thrilled. She quickly came to the conclusion you might from reading this that I’m not particularly agreeable. But a few of the young evangelicals in the prayer group came to see me as someone with whom they could challenge their own perceptions of faith and would continue to engage with me throughout the semester walking across campus, sharing meals at the dining hall, or just congregating to discuss anything that came to mind.
On one such night I remember sitting in one of their dorm rooms while the gathered group was discussing prayer. As someone that doesn’t pray, I didn’t really have anything to add and the group quickly noticed my silence. I told them that I had no experience praying and the discussion quickly turned toward helping me develop an algorithm by which to talk to God. By the time we were overheated out into the courtyard, I had heard enough perspectives and experiences that I felt ready to share with the group the prayer that I made with their help.
Very late at night and far from home, under a gorgeous field of Texas stars, I asked God to be tested.
I regret my arrogance. If there is an entity that answers prayers to God, I was heard and received delivery. The unusual challenges I’ve faced have not been necessary to develop my character or make me a better person, they’ve arguably made me worse: less trusting, less capable, more dependent upon the tolerance and patience of others. In a single prayer I was given a lifetime of humility. Whatever happened to me from that point on, I can only know that I asked for it. And I have no one to blame but myself.