Watch the heart

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It’s hard to believe that my favorite heart stopped beating four Fridays ago. And then started again. And then stopped again. And then, well, for those that have been reading along, you know the ‘and then’.

I know someday will be “just another Friday”, but for now – and the foreseeable future – I’m counting. Today is Friday number FOUR from “that Friday.” Friday and I have always had a thing – but more in the abstract, the idea of Friday as a season, which emerged from the disciple Peter’s experiences on that fateful “Good Friday.” When shock, loss, and mourning collide. When the unreal becomes real. I’ve always said my “first Friday” was going through infertility – our unplanned unparenthood. Heck, even the Bible Study I wrote is called, of all things, ‘Friday’s Rain.’  Walking through my proverbial Friday is how I learned that lament is worship and what it means to praise a GOOD God in the midst of UNGOOD feels and reals.

So it’s not lost on me that “the call” came on a Friday, too. The literal and figurative Fridays colliding in a scene that is still surreal, though the flashbacks hit with shocking realism.

  
This morning I woke up thinking about all that I didn’t know four Fridays ago. ICU-Nurses-turned-friends. Campus-security-officers-turned-heroes. A hospital I didn’t know existed. Medical terms that were previously obscure and irrelevant to me. Doctors I would hug. A naivety and innocence that I didn’t know was naïve and innocent.

But also the depth of community, the power of prayer, and the LIVING nature of Scripture. Just how rich we are in friends. Just how miraculous each breath is. These are all things I knew, but now I KNOW.

This morning my guy decided that it was time to kick me out for a little beach time before I went to therapy – both some of the healthiest things for my soul. When I got down to the water, the clouds were still perfectly thick, keeping everything sleepy and just the right amount of Southern California chilly. But as it generally does, the sun started to fight off the clouds, and as I took in the sun’s warmth, I thought about how the last few weeks have felt just like that … a taking in of the sun as it slowly burns off the clouds. And makes your eyes burn if you stare right at it.

 Direct staring not recommended, but paying attention: highly recommended. Walking the beach, I thought of my hours in the ICU, where I remember wondering if there would be a day that I’d walk the beach again in full contentment. And while I don’t miss the hospital or that ICU room, there’s one thing I do miss. Okay two. Okay three.

First, the definition within its walls. Second, Nurse Nancy. And third, the breakfast burritos.

The second two I can go visit. The first, the definition, may sound like a weird thing to miss- because a hospital is full of UNdefined possibilities, more questions than answers, chaos, and is constantly ON. But one thing a hospital does just right is having a single focus: LIFE. Life has one very specific, distinct, simple meaning in a hospital, especially the cardiac floor. You watch the heart. You watch it’s rythym, it’s beat, it’s pace, it’s consistency. Life inside the hospital walls means one thing. Watch the heart, keep it beating.

Life outside the hospital walls is not so simple. And that’s SO GOOD, and so healthy, and a little tricky. Because life outside the hospital walls includes deadlines and decisions and diets and directions and dog-hair and dust and deep sighs.

And still, watching the heart. Yes the physical – low sodium, cardiac rehab, etc. But also the heart-heart. The soul-part. The one that doesn’t come with a monitor – but oh my gosh can you imagine if it did!? Yikes. Because even when everything changes, you still bring the same self to the table. You’re forever different, but you’re also not.

Watch the heart, for it is deep, and varied. It can take in wonders, and can expand beyond what you thought possible, and ache in unknown places, and echo dazzling light and love. Watch it. Watch your hot-mess heart as it LIVES. I think you’ll be surprised what you find, whether it’s a Friday or “just another Friday.” One sign of LIFE returning this week were the tears and the laughter and then the laughing-tears when a kinda rough conversation led to Jason saying to me, “You know you’re the hot mess that I WANT to do life with, right?” You better believe that I laugh-cried right then and there.

You guys, these hearts of ours. Goodness they are a sacred mystery. They need watching. They have a lot to process and prioritize and participate in. And maybe life outside the hospital walls isn’t all that different from life within: watch the heart, keep it beating.

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We are living a miracle: home

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Home. We’re home! WE are home.

I’ve realized things in a hospital move super slow, like the evolution of your fashion standards into something like this:
  (You’re welcome)

or super fast, like being admitted or, as it turns out, discharged. Which is, by the way, equal parts wonderful and terrifying because you do get a bit used to nurses and doctors and life-saving equipment being a call button away. Still, after a few shared tears as we face our new and unknown normal, it was all smiles from there:

     
 

  

 Gods hand has been in
countless details. More on those later. But one of tonight’s was that our song, Out of the Woods, came on as soon as I turned on our car. For reals though. It’s the song Jason says is how he felt while pursuing my heart all those years ago. It will hold even more meaning to me now.
And we came home to the most beautiful displays of love for us – more to come on all our friends have taught us about love. I mean wow. Our home was filled with flowers, our fridge and pantry stocked with heart healthy foods, our laundry done, our sinks and floors cleaner than I can keep them, and our chalk wall declaring Jason’s LIFE verse. 

 
As we settle into our new normal, beginning with a few DAYS of sleep, we will be telling ourselves of the great things God has done as we read messages and cards and our own hearts.

“Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭105:1‬ ‭

Because the world was a part of the great things He’s done – we got messages from around the U.S., Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Australia – as people stood in prayer, stormed the gates, and rejoiced over Jason in singing – I’d love your help in capturing some of those stories and moments before they’re lost. If you have a picture or video or story of prayer and praise over this man of mine or how God met you as WE ALL are living this miracle, will you get it to me? And please to be sure to include your location.

Here’s a few ways:

1) use the hashtag #teamjasonmiller and #wearelivingamiracle on Facebook or Instagram 

2) comment here

3) email me at brooke@brookemardell.com

Because living a miracle isn’t something you do alone.

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We are living a miracle: who moved my yellow brick road?

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When they said long road to recovery, I may or may not have envisioned a rather straight path through a meadow – long, yes, but it might have had a yellow-brick-tinge in my minds eye because I’d get to walk it holding my mans hand.

So when nurses raced into my husbands hospital room on the first night after being released from ICU, I may or may not have had a post-traumatic reaction (spoiler alert: that’s gonna keep happening). All of a sudden I was hearing alarms and bells that I had categorized as last weeks trauma, and I was very unready to live it again.

So no, this long road to recovery isn’t a smooth path through rolling hills. It’s got some funky detours, wide turns, caution signs and even some u-turns. And in some sections, it has two distinct footpaths, because only one of us was awake for five days of it – so our stories, our memories, our lessons from this will look and sound different from each other.

This long road will involve many more tests, some days will have more questions than answers, rehab will teach the heart and muscles to rebuild, therapy will help our souls heal, friends and family will continue to enrich our lives with selfless love, meaningless drama (here’s looking at you, Oscars 2016) will be its own form of medicine, cooking and grocery shopping and marriage will look different, and our stories will unfold. Emphasis on OUR. 

Because living a miracle takes time.

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We are living a miracle: eyes wide open 

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3am here and I just spent the last 21 hours with my husbands eyes back open, focused, and knowing me. Words can’t even begin to express the warmth that flooded me when his eyes first flickered open, I half-whispered the question “can you see me?” and his head nodded the gentlest and most powerful of all yes’s.
And so began a slow and sacred day of regaining vocal chords, motor skills, etc. I had been warned that this would be a hard day, and it was. Extremely hard. But it was also one of my most favorite of my life. 

And as I slowly fill Jason in on the past five days, I too am having a slow dawn as to the breadth of the story unfolding. So stay tuned with us … With eyes wide open. 

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We are living a miracle: The first 100 hours

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The last hundred hours have been the most unreal, surreal, and at the same time vividly raw real of my life. It will take days, months and probably years for my mind and heart to fully process it. But here’s what I know: we are living a miracle.

In the last hundred hours, a fierce, brutal, powerful tale of redemption and resurrection has unfolded in these hospital walls. One still very much being written, with many questions yet unanswered, yet infused with one miraculously answered prayer after another.

At five o’clock on Friday night, I got “the call” – the one I’ve dreaded with every story of Jenny Lee’s Alec, Mary Crawley’s Matthew, and Meredith Shepherd’s Derek. All at once, I was in my own tv drama nightmare, complete with the perfect morning together preceding it.

As a friend drove me to the hospital, I learned only bits and pieces – CPR had been performed at the scene, he was in the cardio department awaiting a “procedure”, and the procedure could not wait and needed my consent over the phone – ending with a promise they would “do everything they could.” I’d never heard words that struck more terror … I had no idea how many more terrifying words would come to my ears that very night.

When we finally arrived, we waited. In silent agony and with the ER admission nurses avoiding my direct gaze as they asked me to wait for the social worker. I met the men who had performed CPR, the men who had used an aed at the scene. I listened as one might read a newspaper – distant, cautious, as if about a country far away. 

At last I was taken back to meet a doctor – my husbands cardiologist. The words didn’t go together in my mind. He had no heart trouble, no forewarning signs, no family history. Nonetheless, I was told he’d had a heart attack, and had 100% blockage of an artery. They had put in a stint. He was in recovery. And the doctor “has seen people make full recoveries” from these types of attacks, though brain activity was a large unknown. Someone had pulled up a wheelchair; I found myself accepting it.

An hour or so later, after he was stable, they led me back to see him.

As I arrived at the door to his room, I saw the tubes, the monitors, the wires, the hospital gown. And then the monitor flashed a red zero. And the light above his door flashed blue. And nurses and doctors from every direction came running as I became an extra in my own episode of Greys Anatomy. 

Jason coded twelve times that night. I can’t put into words the terror of each one, or the ring of words like “flatline”, “paddles – clear!” being within earshot, and being about the man I love.

My prayers were fervent and clear: life, breath, life, breath. 

Yet life and breath were the most elusive things of the evening. I watched nurses work tirelessly. Doggedly. Fighting death back only to have it come running at them again. And again. And again.

At some point, I became aware that their efforts were more for me than for him – that they were doing everything in their power to show me that they had done everything in their power. I stared at the love of my life as he stared blankly ahead, while machines kept his body alive.

I knew to sing. I don’t know how or why I knew that. But I knew to sing over him. Hymns and songs of worship, praise, and a promise – to him and to me – that I would declare God is good. In the shadow. Songs that defied what the eyes could see even as it was breaking my heart in half to think what it would mean to keep worshiping in a world without my Jason.

At 5:30am on Saturday February 20, 2016, I was told that I would soon be a widow. 

That there was nothing left they could do. That he was on one hundred percent life support, and that time would make no difference. That it was time to say goodbye.

I heard a wail. A deep guttural moan filled with pain. I realized it was coming from my own mouth. From the depths of my soul. 

And even as my mouth said the words goodbye, even as my hands caressed the skin not covered in needles and wires, even as my mind recognized that I would never see him again this side of heaven, my heart refused for it to be true.

As the doctor walked in, I told him I had only one question. My tear-soaked eyes begged him to tell me why more time wouldn’t make a difference; why we weren’t giving him a chance to fight.

His eyes filled with discomfort, and he squirmed with the truth of what he had to tell me. That there was almost zero chance that time would make any difference at all.

I clung to almost.

He agreed to wait a few more hours. I knew even then that it was merely to give me the confidence that we had tried.

I took each step in a hollow fog, understanding each one was leading me to my unwanted new chapter of life as the former Mrs. Jason Miller.

One hour later, he woke up.

He. Woke. Up.

He was responsive. Answering to his name and simple commands. The doctor couldn’t explain it. The nurse grabbed my hand and said “I’ve never seen anything like this!” as she raced me down the hall to his side. 

His still unfocused eyes started searching as he heard my voice. My hand went to his forehead and my heart leapt in hope. He was awake.

He was also incredibly unstable, and I was rushed out as quickly as I was rushed in, as doctors realized that stimulation was causing his blood pressure to plummet and his heart to race erratically. 

Still, he had woken up. Against all odds. Life had returned to the room.

And so began a delicate vigil, a teetering dance around vital signs and organ failure and shallow breaths and v-tachy spikes and bodily tremors and countless medications and machines.

So continued a battle of heavenly proportions, where prayer requests went out around the world and loved ones flew in from around the world. Where we saw every odd beaten and every prayer answered. Where I have learned more about love than ever before as we’ve been surrounded these twilight and daylight hours alike. 

Where life has returned. Resurrected life.

Today ended the dependence on drugs and machines. Even now we are beginning the weaning from sedation. With it remain many unknowns, and I keep receiving warning that we have a long road ahead, to which I say “AMEN it’s long!” The short one would have ended with a funeral.

But we, we are living the long road of a miracle.

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Pray Life

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The love of my life is in the fight of his life. These are the first words I’ve penned since he had a heart attack on Friday. Someone else will post them, just as someone else has fed me, clothed me, and at times literally held me up over the last 84 hours.

This isn’t the first time we’ve fought for love – and with every hour, I pray it’s not the last time.

I know the voices of hundreds have stormed the gates with us in prayer. I know it because of the hundreds of unread texts/emails/messages – that someday I will read – but mostly I know it because I am witness to its power. The angel of death still hovers, but he has been pushed out of this room over and over and over again – only by prayer. Only by grace.

Jason’s life verse is Zephaniah 3:17. We have seen God in his midst as a warrior mighty to save. We have seen him calm Jason with his love. And we continue to rejoice over Jason with singing.

Psalm 63:7-8 is a picture of what the last four days have been for me. 

Please, continue to storm the gates with us. Pray life.

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I’m giving up Anxiety for Lent (and I’m SO ANXIOUS about it!)

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I’m not really a lent-kind-of-gal. It hasn’t really been something I’ve intentionally participated in before. Though I was most inspired a few years ago by a friend who gave up using a fork for lent. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that kind of creativity?

But this year, our lifegroup is looking for ways to be more intentional, and I figured lent could be a good way for me to be intentional – in the mantra of Kimmy Schmidt, I can do anything for ten seconds at a time, right?

So this text exchange happened this morning:

 

Husband: I’m giving up coffee for Lent.

Me: I’m not sure what to give up.

Husband: Anxiety.

Me: Lol if only I knew how.

 

I then turned to my girlfriends via text to laugh about the idea – I mean, how “cute” that my husband would come up with something like that for me to give up. I was gunning for something more along the lines of “stomach fat”. Honestly, I can imagine a lot of spiritual health and growth in my world if I gave up some of that for Lent this year.

But I couldn’t deny what husband knows: I wake up with anxiety. I go to sleep with anxiety. I call it ‘being responsible.’ When I’m feeling fancy, I call it being a ‘multipotentialite’.

So I reached out to my girls to joke … “anyone know how a girl can give up anxiety for lent?” [insert hearty chuckle or laug-til-you-cry emoji].

As soon as I hit send, I thought “oh crap, there’s totally a recipe for that in Scripture.” Phil. 4:6-7 immediately came to mind.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And not surprisingly, the first friend to respond also issued an “ah crap, I just asked God what he wanted me to give up.”

So began this whole thread of us putting our anxiety-ridden-hot-mess-selves into the text-o-sphere with statements like:

 

“Does anyone know anyone who doesn’t worry?”

“I pray and pray but seems like I just get worse and worse. Social anxieties, depression – I mean, how do I not worry about EVERYTHING?”

“It sounds impossible … but what if it’s not?”

 

And with a holy crap, I knew that my jokester-man had hit a very big nail on the head. And that I wasn’t alone. And that this year, I am giving up Anxiety for Lent.

Instantly, I was filled with anxiety ABOUT giving up anxiety. I mean, how does one DO THAT!? I know it with my head … I memorized Phil. 4 many moons ago … and I’ve experienced “the peace that passes understanding” in various and distinct moments. And it’s powerful.

But I’d be lying if I said that that kind of peace is a lifestyle.

And I’m not satisfied with treating Scripture like it’s “a nice idea”, even though that’s my very first response when I read a verse like “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow … “

OF COURSE I’M ANXIOUS ABOUT TOMORROW! I mean, has anyone missed who just won the New Hampshire primaries!?

And also … there’s these pesky things called jobs … and dreams … and new babies due any minute (not mine) … and babies just born on drugs (also not mine!) … and new businesses … and grocery shopping … and laundry … and the losing of the stomach-fat thing … and getting the dishwasher fixed … and ALL THE THINGS.

Sometimes I feel a bit like Michele Pfiefer (really, I’ve always wanted to say that – sadly, this is the only part of me that can say it honestly) … in her hot-mess-moment with George Clooney in ‘One Fine Day’ (yep, throwing it way back here). ‘Melanie’ tells ‘Jack’ that she’s got all these balls in the air … and that if she slows down, or misses a step, or relies on someone else … the balls will drop. Jack is constantly after her to just admit she can’t do it all alone. This scene always plays in my mind when I hear someone say I don’t need to worry, or don’t need to feel responsible, or don’t need to think the buck stops with me, or can let a ball drop:

 

                       JACK

         All right. Now say, “I can’t do

         everything on my own.”

         You can’t say it.

                        MELANIE

         Sure I can, just as long as you

         realize that it won’t be true.

         Okay. I can’t do everything alone.

                         JACK

         There. Great.

                         MELANIE

         Even though my daily activities, year

         after year, immediately contradict what

         I just said.

 

This idea of an anxiety-free-life … you guys, I treat it like it’s just that, an IDEA – a nice idea, but one that I can only say as long as you know it won’t be true. And I can say that I can’t do it all, that I’m not responsible for it all, but my anxiety immediately contradicts that.

Still, Scripture talks about this anxiety-free lifestyle like it’s real. And I am one of the beloved extremists who believes that Scripture is God’s word – that it is living, active, and does not return void. And I don’t believe that I need any other trick or practice or yoga-pose to unlock it’s power. So how do I reconcile these two things? This IDEAL of God’s Word saying “do not be anxious”, and my very REAL life where anxiety is pretty much a bestie, albeit an obnoxious one.

Well, I don’t know. I don’t know how to give up Anxiety for Lent. But I dug into Scripture this morning and I’m trying to hear what it has to say about it. And to hear it in such a way that I believe it. And to hear it in such a way that it translates to action. That it can be something I can ACTUALLY DO.

Maybe one of the rythyms of Lent is that it’s different to look ahead 40 days and say “I’m going to try to give THIS up for THIS long”, as opposed to feeling overwhelmed by giving something up forever … even something that’s bad for you.

So as the weeks of Lent unfold, I’ll be digging into Scripture, hearing what it has to say about anxiety, and doing my best to share here what I find without preaching to anyone (including myself) (though, side-rant, when did preaching become a bad thing?).

I’m giving up Anxiety for Lent. It sounds impossible … But what if it’s not?

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Friday’s Rain (Week 5)

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While I didn’t intentionally time this last week of Friday’s Rain to coincide with Memorial Day Weekend, I sure think it’s fitting.

Memorial Day is a time of remembrance – of both the losses and the victories. So too is this last week of the Study.

Writing Friday’s Rain has been a tremendous gift – and not a wee bit of a sacrifice – my husband gets big points in the sharing department! Week 5 is now live for download here. The downloads will remain active for a limited time. Thanks to all who have participated in this initial e-launch – stay tuned for more news of Friday’s Rain this fall!

*Update May 2016: Thank you to everyone who participated in the e-launch to make Friday’s Rain great! It is now available to order here!

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An Open Bible at Starbucks

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Sitting at Starbucks with an open Bible is a fascinating experiment.

 photo 2

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not the experiment-with-an-open-Bible kind of girl. I wouldn’t call myself an evangelist, though I am an evangelical. So it wasn’t sitting open as an experiment, but because this girl needed to get out of her own office and off her own couch and the early morning led me to the land where I smell coffee but never drink it. Yep, I’m the girl who drinks tea at Starbucks.

And really, Iphoto 4 forget that life with an open Bible is becoming more and more of an anomaly. As Ihere in my grubbies and with my laptop before me, I wasn’t exactly screaming for attention. And my Bible is on the wee-side. A beloved relic from the days of yore when we sold everything we owned and traipsed around the world with a backpack. It’s small and handy. No neon sign attached.

Yet it drew people. And conversations. Some that even included the f-bomb. From me. Yeah, that happened. In Starbucks. While I described Week 4 of Friday’s Rain. Read it and you’ll see why.

Most people were just curious. “Is that a Bible?” But the question that really got me thinking was the guy who said “Why is your Bible open?”

 You know, honestly, a lot of times it’s not.

But that day it was. And it wasn’t just open. So was my mind and my heart. Writing a Bible Study is no joke, folks, and while I had certain ideas from here and from there, the coolest thing has been to remember just how ALIVE God’s Word is. To explore it and search it and listen for what comes next before I write it down. Powerful stuff.

And that’s basically what I told the young guy who asked me about why it sat there open before me. He’d never read it. He asked thoughtful, intentional questions. This is a season in my life, you guys, where God is teaching me that He’s the God who goes before us. Even in something as simple (and miraculous) as spending the morning learning the specific answer to a precise question that was still hours away from being asked.

I want to live my life with more open-Bible days. It’s not enough to carry it in my purse. The real power of God’s Word is when it’s open.

Amazing things can happen with an open Bible at Starbucks. You should try it. But don’t be the person who uses it as an experiment. Actually open it’s pages for you. Because maybe you need to hear something specific, or maybe the guy who’s going to sit down four hours from now does. Or more probably, both.

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FRIDAY’S RAIN: revealing what grief washes away [Bible-Study]

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*Update May 2016: Thank you to everyone who participated in the e-launch to make Friday’s Rain great!

It is now available to order here!

Friday's Rain Card - Choose Joy 2015 copy FRIDAY’S RAIN: revealing what grief washes away

Week 1 of 5 is now available as a free download HERE. Each Sunday for the next four weeks I’ll be releasing the next week’s study – email subscribers will receive it DIRECTLY in their Inbox. SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL HERE

I’d love to know about your journey through this E-Study. Post thoughts, comments or questions here on this site or via Facebook or Instagram.

Standing in the storm with you,

just name

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