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Faith and love were in place when going got tough

June 11, 1999|By Denise Troxell

In past columns, I have led you through my seemingly healthy life up to the age of 30 to set the stage for my health challenges that would follow.

It was 1984 and I was living near the ski mountains of western Pennsylvania in a cozy home, high on a windy hill, with my husband Ken and our two little boys, Sean, 3 and Alec, 2.

I was a busy wife and mother. My favorite part of the day was when Ken came home at 3 p.m. and lay on the couch watching Sesame Street while his boys climbed all over him. I would have an hour or so alone to fix dinner. I have had some of my greatest inspirational thoughts while stirring food.

Interestingly, that year I had also been searching out my faith in God again.

As I grew up, my family was always active in the Methodist church. During my senior year in high school, when adults didn't know anything, I stopped going.


I told myself it was because I found it a hypocritical, empty ritual, but now I think it was mostly because I just wanted to do what I wanted to do, which included sleeping late on Sunday. Thinking about God twisted my conscience.

Twelve years later, when my sons were toddlers, my good-mother instinct kicked in and I was determined to get them to church. Even though I didn't feel I needed it, I wanted them to hear the stories and feel valued as part of a church family.

I chose the large Lutheran church in our town simply on the basis of its great nursery run by two kind old ladies with years of experience.

At the same time I began reading Shirley MacLaine's books about reincarnation.

That woke you up.

I believe God works in mysterious ways and the important thing was I was searching. My soul knew it needed answers to some deep questions.

Several months into this time, Sean became ill and was hospitalized for dehydration. I was at the end of my rope one day at the hospital when in walked a new young pastor who had just been assigned to our small partner church.

He introduced himself and gently asked how we were. I looked him straight in the eye and said angrily, "Why does God let these things happen?"

I wanted my little boy well.

Gentle Bob was an aeronautical engineer who had been called to go into seminary. This was his first church and he and his wife, Lana, didn't know too many people yet.

He smiled and said he didn't know. I started telling him about Shirley MacLaine and, to his credit, he didn't leave or look alarmed, but invited me to a coffee and discussion group called Thursday Morning he had started at church.

Children were welcome, so I went. He and Lana and I became, and are still, great friends. Bob has given me communion in the hospital many times.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I am fairly certain that my soul (and God) knew I was sick, and started searching a year before the discovery of the hole in my heart so that I would survive. My soul, feeling God, led me to become active in a loving church family again when I would need it the most.

Actually more like a mountain climb, where the view gets increasingly beautiful to reward you for your cursing struggle, this search has led me to see and feel the joy inherent in this creation even as I suffer sickness and fear.

But my faith is so broad, some of my devout friends might call me a heathen.

And when I talk about my visions and feeling held in God's motherlike arms during my worst times, my atheist friends get a politely glazed look in their eyes. They may be apalled that I have joined the ranks of the editorial page preachers.

The main thing I feel is a boundless sense of joy to be alive and full of love. Where there is love, there is God. Where there is suffering met with love, there is God. And where there is searching, there is God.

For me.

You will hear more about this later. And I am happy to report I love and am loved by a wonderful church family at Mt. Nebo United Methodist in Boonsboro even though I don't always get up on Sunday morning.

But back to the story.

I had begun to get out of breath often that year, but had blamed it on the 20 pounds I had never lost after the boys were born. I began to walk the huge circle of our three-acre hill, but nothing improved.

Finally, when I could no longer bend over to tie the boys' shoes without breathing hard, I made an appointment with a new internal medicine doctor.

What makes a fairly intelligent person wait a year to go to a doctor for such symptoms? In my case, I was refusing to believe I could be seriously ill and I was afraid it might be cancer. Very dumb attitude. I didn't know that shortness of breath can mean heart troubles, most of which can be helped.

Dr. Enany was just out of school. He listened to my heart and immediately asked me if I knew I had heart murmers. I laughed and said no way.

It was a simple chest X-ray that told the story. My pulmonary artery, which carries blood from the heart into the lungs to get oxygen, was huge, as was my right heart. He sent me immediately to his teacher in Pittsburgh, my favorite cardiologist in the whole world, Dr. James O'Toole.

At my appointment Thanksgiving week, Dr. O'Toole listened, looked me straight in the eye and told me I had a hole in my heart between the two top chambers or the atria. He said I would need open heart surgery to patch the hole, but that I could wait until after Christmas with my boys.

I joked about maybe getting a will made. Not smiling, he said I definitely should. Ken and I stared into each other's eyes across the room.

Denise Troxell is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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