Last week I almost died. Here’s a peak into my near death experience in three parts and a reminder for you to breathe please, too.
PART 1 – Breathe Please (From the ICU)
Friend, you haven’t seen very much from me lately because I’m barely alive.
By Sunday evening I had chills and a fever, the type you can’t function with
and just find yourself in a half delirious state, believing your creating boxes with your legs for sharecroppers. (I realize that makes no sense, but, then again I am delirious.)
By Monday the kids and our housemate had this nasty virus. My husband was the sole picture of health, by the grace of God, among five very sick people in a 1300 sq.ft. house.
Then the coughing started. By Wednesday morning I couldn’t catch my breath, so my husband loaded me in the car and took me to urgent care. Urgent care took one look at me and called 911 for emergency transport to the ER.
Bucket list goal of riding an ambulance: CHECK
(Wait, that wasn’t on my bucket list)
Then came was the series of tests to rule out every freaking thing under the sun that could be causing this (Like lung fungi. Who even knew that
was a thing?). But it turns out I am just one of those cases where a healthy adult almost died just, well, because. Acute respiratory failure, “all five lobes of your lungs are diseased,” septic failure, and possibly viral pneumonia (because there isn’t any other good explanation).
I landed in ICU where I have one job: Breathe.
They quickly realized I couldn’t even talk or scoot in bed without my oxygen level dipping dangerous low. I am too weak to even use a bed pan. Intubation is on the table, along with debating the pros and cons of a lung biopsy. I can’t do anything. Of course the whole time they’ve been using various breathing machines and breathing treatments to try to keep me stable.
Being me, and being less delirious than I was when the fever was at its peak, I keep thinking of questions, stories, conversation to write.
But that’s for later. Breathing is now.
I’m plumb out of energy, so I’ll just leave you with something I am copying and pasting from my Life Map that I’ve already written. (If you don’t know what Life Mapping is, click the above pic for your free workbook). Why? Because maybe you need to just breathe too!
“Just like in an emergency on an airplane you have to put on an oxygen mask to function well-enough to help others, in real life you have to do the same.”
“Self care: This priority of mine is to love and care for myself, acknowledging I am worth as much as those I want to serve. Therefore, I will invest in my own health physically, spiritually, and emotionally before I try to care for others so that I can love them well.”
Love the world. Do. Please. So few do.
But breathe first.
PART 2 – Be a Boss at Life (Recovering at Home)
Today, after these six days and five nights following a weirdly fluke respiratory failure (for someone who has never had a breathing problem), I was released to finish recovery at home!
I’ll need the breathe reminders, “take a dang shower,” and “walk” checklist for awhile yet. But the “Be a boss at life” checkbox I think we all need!
Right now my goal is simply to breathe, and by breathing I am being a boss at life. This is really hard for me, because I am very rarely a sit-at-home and zone-out watching T.V. type of person for more than a short stint at a time. I am always interacting with my family and the people around me. True, I enforce distinct seasons of rest (like an hour of restful “fun” before bed, a weekly “Sabbath” day and Wednesday’s writing-out night), but I don’t just sit around for days.
Quickly I am discovering that “Being a Boss at Life” also means I can’t live in guilt constantly. I feel guilty for asking for help. Guilty receiving help. Guilty for not being with my kids. Guilty feeling exhausted after only engaging in conversation with the kids or people dropping-off food. Guilty for napping. Guilty for watching T.V. Guilty for crying while processing my near death experience and not being able to breathe because I am crying. Guilty for writing and working on this computer. Guilty for not being better yet.
I know this false guilt (what church people call the dreaded condemnation) stems from things I’ve always struggled with, and honestly, I thought I largely nipped it in the bud. Apparently, I haven’t. I have to keep telling myself truth to counteract whatever is at the root of my fake guilt at any given moment. It is hard work recovering, but even harder recovering and not engaging the guilt.
I asked you guys what “being a boss at life” would look like for you today, and I had answers accross the board, from being able to “say no” to “not yelling at my kids as we go out the door.”
Those are noble and wonderful goals. I’ll keep breathing and cutting down the false guilt while you live out your own “be a boss at life” goal today. Let me know about it in the comments!
PART 3 – Proskuneō Worship (After Five Days Home)
I realize I might lose some of you on this, as I know a lot of people on here aren’t followers of Jesus like I am. But I have to be real, and so I am going to share the more spiritual side of this story for those willing to hear it. (Feel free to skip out if you want.)
A Little Morbidity Goes a Long Way
As I look back on how near death I was last week, I keep considering that honestly, it might not be anything out of the ordinary. We might not realize that we have near death experiences all the time and aren’t aware of them: a car out of control, a bad food overlooked, a medicine unavailable. It wouldn’t take too much to spiral us all into the maw of death.
Death, the one thing promised to all of us.
My housemate says I’ve been a little morbid.
Personally, I think it is healthy to “count our days” every once in awhile. In fact, the first exercise in Life Mapping guides us in doing just this. But, on top of that, this week I keep hearing stories of suffering and death. Friends whose friends are passing unexpectedly, children with cancer, past traumas cropping-up and bringing people I know low.
We are a fragile people.
It doesn’t make me feel depressed. Just pensive. I also experience so much life and joy on a regular basis I know that both of these sides of the coin exist in tandem.
Life and death. Joy and sorrow. Health and suffering.
They always say that on an early death-bed, people find themselves bargaining with God. It was ironic to me that I found myself doing that, too. But the difference for me is that I had already given everything to God. He has it all, my life, my family, my career, my purpose. I would start bargaining, then quickly realize I had nothing left to give and just shrug and go back to “well, I guess because I can’t control anything, I will worship.”
Identifying myself as a worshiper has always been paramount to me. The day before I got sick I spoke on worship at a women’s event. The day I got sick I listened to another speaker talk about worship. In fact, I had committed to spend extra time this last week, before I was even sick, at my piano in worship because I wanted to foster a deeper intimacy that comes from the joy of being thankful in worship.
So while trying to breathe, bargaining for life, and subsequently failing at it, I found myself time and time again intentionally going back to worshiping God for who He is, big and good enough.
If you don’t share that belief, it makes no sense. After all, why the suffering? That is a valid question, and I am happy to consider it with you. But for now I’ll just say that for those of us who find hope in a life outside of this two-sided coin of joy and sorrow, putting the present in the context of an impossible eternity is such a life-giving gift.
Where’s the Meaning?
There is no one reason this near death experience happened for me.
From a scientific perspective, nature takes its course eventually, circumstances pile up to negate health, and the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics declares we are all in decay.
Alternatively, I can find insane amount of meaning in this stint of suffering. I see what has happened in me, the growth, the refining, the becoming of who I am designed to be.
This near death experience helps me empathize with those who hurt and appreciate some amazing people, like the stream of nurses and friends who’ve cared so diligently for me.
Then there is the trickle effect–the growth of my family, friends. Seeing people step into new roles I couldn’t show-up for and my friends rising-up to serve when I had to cancel my speaking engagement on “serve.” There is purpose in the relationships I built with some of my caregivers, and how this positioned me to be there for the people who’ve reached out to me while I’ve been sick.
There is the thrilling validation that isn’t a coincidence or a fluke to be embraced this much again. I feel insane gratitude for finding myself in a community who can love so deeply, affirming my belief that the Church really is being built, wherever I live, and it really can be a little bit of heaven on earth. We are becoming who we are designed to be.
And so I worship.
In Greek, there is a word for worship which depicts complete surrender, proskuneō. I used to write it on my left wrist like a tat for years, and often still do. It reminds me of who I am and that I can’t control this life.
Oh yes, I know I have a great amount of influence on my life through my choices and I value that highly (hence Life Mapping). However, the way I approach life is with gratitude and ultimate surrender.
Last night, I went somewhere for the first time (besides for medical care) since I got sick almost two weeks ago. I figured going to my small group to prayerfully process this experience wouldn’t be a bad thing. This small group of friends–which includes no one I should actually be friends with, no one my age or that I have much in common with–cheered my return. Together, we worshiped and prayed. We talked about surrender.
And there, when I was sitting back, feeling like I couldn’t breathe, one of the women came up and prayed over me and a wind went through my chest. I gave me the strength to began a broken song of gratitude, just insane thankfulness for being alive and loved, and giving that love back to God.
The room was silent, except gentle playing on the guitar and whispers and agreements with what I was expressing. It was my turn to worship.
And so I broke, I wept, and I sang in all honesty and vulnerability. It was so beautiful to be free that way. And as I died down, another spoke into me so much encouragement for my purpose and calling as I guide, speak, mentor and lead. And then another woman spoke life to me also, sharing with me her prayers and vision for who I am. I was embraced by this small group of people who love God and me deeply.
“Sister, you didn’t have to get that sick just so we would tell you we love you. We would have told you if you just asked,” one black brother said. (Trust, me this guy loves being called brother, while I laughingly tolerate sister.)
It is such an odd thing to be surrounded by people whom you shouldn’t be friends with, but you are friends with and who have your back. In that moment, fully humbled by the last two weeks, I can’t even tell you how deep, genuine, and poignant that moment of pure worship–proskuneō–was together.
Like I said, I will never know the full ramifications of this near death experience. But I am convinced that somethings won’t change as I keep breathing deeply first, choosing to be a boss at life, and practicing that form of vulnerable and ultimate surrender I call proskuneō worship.
Now, I have no clue if my story resonates with you at all. Whether it does or doesn’t, I ask you to glean one thing from my near death experience:
Breathe, please. Breathing means living. And I am requesting for you to keep living on the outside and become living on the inside. Get a little closer to being who you’ve been designed to be. For only from there can you be fully alive and make the difference in the world you were born to make.
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