Let me Tell you a Story

I love a good story.

I’m a bit of a talker when you get me one-on-one, and if you’re willing to listen, I can go into detail.

I love to read a good story— a blog, Facebook post, memoir, or fictional tale.  My idea of a good Friday night is me, a cup of tea, and a good book.

I also like to write a good story.  Not too long ago, I stumbled upon a file on my computer that I hadn’t accessed in a while.  It was my completed novel from 2012, an unpublished sequel to my 2011 release, The Promise.  I started to click through the pages, thinking about everything I would change if I could rewrite it or reveling in the portions that I thought were really strong.  In reading through my earlier work, a spark reawakened inside me.  I knew I didn’t have the time or energy, but there was still a longing to get back to writing again. 

I considered my current list of priorities, and quickly shot down the possibility of returning to writing.  Besides, who needed to write a novel when it felt like I was living through quite the page-turner already.  It was all I could do to keep moving as the story of my life spread out before me with all of its twists and turns.  If I could tell you the story of the past eighteen months, it might go something like this:

March, 2020

I was exhausted.  I felt a sharp pain in my ear, and when I reached up my hand to investigate, I found my ear canal was wet with discharge and painful to the touch.  To my knowledge, I had never had an ear infection before, but I knew that this couldn’t be good. 

I went into the office that next morning to hear my pastor say something strange: “So there’s this virus out there.  Schools are shutting down, and I’m thinking the church will need to close too.  You are going to need to be flexible because we might need to record our services.  I’ll keep you posted on what to do next.”

I had heard about Covid-19 and even the reality of a toilet paper shortage, but this caught me by surprise.  Trust me; I even considered that because of my probable ear infection, I may have heard him wrong.  But the reality soon became crystal clear.  We entered into nearly three months of lockdown with pre-recorded services and quite a bit of working from home.  I led worship mainly by myself during that time, only adding in one other vocalist on Easter Sunday.  It was a lonely yet also extremely busy time.  I had just come through an intensive songwriting mentorship, so the creativity was still flowing, which was a huge blessing because it kept me motivated. 

There was sadness during this time as well, because I said goodbye to a dear loved one whom held the role of best friend in my life.  If this were a chapter in my story, it would be marked with adversity, longing, fear, doubt, and most of all, grief.  The chapter concluded with a farewell and the end to a life-long connection. 

July, 2020

A new chapter begins.  Services are live and in-person, but the crowds are small.  I am fatigued from leading worship almost every week, and my pastor gives me a one-week respite for bereavement.  I come back to work, rested but still missing my loved one.  There is a bit of hope on the horizon, however, as we start to have outdoor services.  After a great ordeal, I manage to get my new piano in place, essentially saying goodbye to the instrument I had played for twenty years.  It was sad to let go of the piano where I had written many of my first songs, but I was excited for something new so I could record and create new melodies.  If this were a chapter in my book, it would be marked by letting go and new beginnings. 

December, 2020

The overwhelm, the stress, the fatigue, the extended lockdown…. November, 2020 brought another lockdown to our church.  I began leading worship alone again, and we recorded almost all of the services between November 15 and the end of the year.  I truly struggled in my worship leading.  I had always memorized the music I played, but I never realized how much I had relied on my fellow worship team members to get me back on track if I lapsed on a lyric.  When I was on stage all by myself and I couldn’t hear anyone singing with me, I began to doubt I knew the lyrics to the songs I had been singing for such a long time. 

One late afternoon in early December, I completely fell apart.  The despair was so acute that I couldn’t catch a breath in the midst of my tears.  I was at a crossroads.  Either I needed help or I simply couldn’t sustain the workload.  I prayed with an intensity that exhausted me nearly as much as my constant tears.  I asked God to help me, but I couldn’t imagine the answer to my prayers. 

When my exhaustion was complete, I had no choice but to stop my crying and simply listen to what God had to say.  It was then I felt the prompting to check out prompting technologies.  Prompting had been something I had considered before but I never thought it would work for me and my limited vision.  But in about two hours, I had my answer.  Thanks to a free app from the Google Play Store, I was on my way.  Two weeks later, I had an adjustable stand that would place my prompter (an Android tablet) right at eye level.  For the first time in my nine years as a worship leader, I had an adaptive tool that could help me with lyrics and arranging my music.

I reveled in the victory that came from this adaptation, but the celebration only lasted twenty-four hours.  The very next day, I got up from the table after eating lunch, and my heart started racing.  I had felt this rapid heart rate before, but only occasionally over the years since I was a teenager.  Typically, the feeling would pass in a few minutes or last as long as maybe an hour.  I had always equated my rapid heart rate to be evidence of a panic attack.  I have struggled with anxiety for a long time, so this self-diagnosis always seemed probable.  But there was a small part of me that wondered if it could be something more serious.  Heart-related concerns exist in my family, so it wasn’t completely impossible that something could be wrong. 

My heart kept racing that day, and two hours later, I still didn’t have relief.  I realized this couldn’t be a panic attack.  I had just found a way to deal with a lot of my stress, and I was relieved to have the prompter to assist me.  So the rapid heart rate didn’t make much sense, and I was starting to get worried. 

A dear friend called me in the midst of all of this, and immediately, she knew something was wrong.  I told her to distract me.  I thought that by talking to her I could somehow calm down.  But nothing changed, and my friend encouraged me to call 911.  I wasn’t sure taking that step was necessary, considering I wasn’t feeling like my symptoms were life-threatening, but I agreed that I would get someone to drive me to urgent care. 

I left the house after unplugging the Christmas lights and making sure everything was in order.  My friend stayed on the phone with me as I walked a few houses down to knock on the neighbor’s door.  Fortunately, he was home and quickly sprang into action.  He couldn’t enter the hospital because of Covid restrictions, and I felt the separation keenly as I faced the hours ahead alone.   

I was not prepared for my two-day hospital stay.  My blood pressure had spiked and could not be controlled.  A protein level was elevated in my blood as well due to my prolonged episode of supraventricular tachycardia.  Yes, I had a diagnosis.  Yes, I had panic and anxiety, but my Friday afternoon heart rate spike had not been panic after all.  I now had a name for the uncomfortable pounding heart rate that had plagued me on and off for years. 

January-April, 2021

The next few months were marked with doctor appointments, medication adjustments, and a great deal to consider.  Surprisingly, I handled the ever-changing circumstances fairly well.  I was stressed, but I knew it was important to get well, so I focused on following the doctors’ instructions and taking care of myself. 

The prompter was working out great at church, and we had returned to live and in-person services in the middle of January. 

Easter was approaching, and we began to consider the possibility of an outdoor service.  It was looking like it was going to be in the mid-seventies for the temperature that day, and since Easter in Wisconsin can often be quite chilly, this warm day was a gift.  I was able to play my new piano at the outdoor service, even working in the sound of a pipe organ so we could sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” at the top of our voices.  It was a beautiful morning when it felt like we could truly be together without boundaries.  The pandemic was still all around us, but for the first time in a year, it felt almost normal… or better than normal because the day was crystal clear and felt like Summer in April.  This chapter in my story concluded with hope and promise.

April 13, 2021

I was rehearsing at the piano when the phone rang.  It was cloudy outside and rain was threatening; little did I know the dreary weather was a pre-cursor to the long night ahead.  The conversation that resulted from that phone call changed everything.  I got up from the piano to pace the floor while I heard words like: “It’s time for me to go.”  “You’ll have to move forward without me.”  In a matter of moments, a relationship that had spanned the course of several years came to an abrupt end.  This was goodbye and nothing I could say or do could change it. 

The night ahead was fraught with tossing and turning.  If this were a chapter in my story, I would say this is where I got stuck in the middle— re-reading passages, losing my train of thought, and having to read everything again.  I cried, I prayed, I asked why.  I felt betrayed, abandoned, overwhelmed, even angry at times.  I replayed scenarios in my mind— all of the what-ifs and could-have-beens.  Why didn’t I see this coming?

With basically little to no sleep, I went into the office for an 11:00 meeting the next morning.  I was a wreck, walking in a fog, thinking all of this had to be a bad dream.  How do you move forward when nothing makes sense?  In terms of my story, I set the book aside and left it behind.  This was no happily ever after; I wanted no part of it. 

April 16, 2021

On May 14, I planned to release my song “Quiet Place” on all digital platforms.  In fact, that day I was so low on sleep, I actually approved the cover art and was thinking about submitting everything for digital distribution.  But I stopped myself from completing anything official because I was running on empty and definitely not thinking clearly.  Two days later, I got the finalized track, and hearing the completed song managed to penetrate through my numb haze.  With exactly a month to go until release, I announced the good news on my Facebook page, and for the first time in three days, I felt like I could look forward to something.  Music did its work in reviving me. 

June, 2021

I have one month to go before my ablation procedure; I am nervous but optimistic that I might soon embrace better health.  The church is transitioning.  Our pastor departed late in the Spring, and we entered the summer by welcoming in an interim.  Everything has changed, and there are days when it’s all I can do to keep everything straight.  The heat is intense, and I’m not sure if it’s my meds or something else, but I’m miserable.  I stay home in the air conditioning most of the time and fumble through songs at the piano.  I’m still stuck in the middle of that chapter from April, reluctant to move forward but yet knowing that I’ll have to turn the page soon because I can’t stay here. 

July 12, 2021

My ablation is complete, and although it appears to have promising results, I am discouraged about some of the findings.  As August begins, I am informed that I will have to wear a heart monitor.  I am weary of it all at this point. 

August 31, 2021

There is a glimmer of hope.  In just a few hours, I can take off the heart monitor and send it back to the clinic.  I check my email, and see a message from someone I’ll call “Miranda.”  That’s actually not her name, but since the season ahead is so deeply personal, I’m choosing not to go into detail.  But getting that message is like a new beginning, and I’m looking forward to the door that has opened to me.  In my story, this might be seen as the cliff-hanger with the sequel available sometime soon. 

So that’s my story… deeply personal and yet a snap-shot— a novella or short story of the last eighteen months.  I know I am not the only one to walk through significant challenges over these past few months, so if you’re reading this, I want you to know that you’re not alone.  The story is still unfolding, so even though it might seem hopeless at times, we have to remember that God is still at work within us. There is hope for a sequel of promise, a redeeming and outpouring of love and mercy.  I can’t wait to dive into the first chapter!

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