Extraordinary

Somewhere along the line I decided I was invincible. Oh, I admitted I would someday die, but until then...invincible. It was right around the time I had to face up to the fact that I would someday die. Around age 19. I felt the tautness of youth in my muscles, the energy propelled on by the drugs that kept my heart beating, the refusal to sleep for fear of wasting precious time. I remember wearing a shirt that bore the motto, "You can sleep when you're dead." And I truly believed it. Rest was for the weary, sleep was for the weak, reflection for the elderly.

One day, once a year, I resurrect that spirit from the ashes. I rise early, pull on my oldest clothes, forgo my shower, and head outdoors, whatever the weather. My body coils and springs again as I chop wood. I lay down in the dirt, and light fires, and breathe smoke. Maple syruping time is the one time I relive this youthful pipe dream of invincibility. I hope I never see the day when I have to lay aside my ax and give it up forever.

That spirit of invincibility carried me through a dark, dark day when my heart actually stopped. When I try to think back to that day and figure out why I acted in certain ways, it still makes no sense to me at all. I collapsed in a hallway at work - thankfully, work was a hospital - and came to during my third shock as defibrillator pads sent an arc of electricity through my chest. I don't remember collapsing, although I do remember having an odd sense of impending doom while finishing my shift, which caused me to check on my patient about 100 extra times before I completed my work. When I came to, I made a miraculous recovery, and refused to even allow the doctor to call my parents. That streak was there from the start of my health problems, and, to this day, I don't understand what about heart disease made me push my parents away as a young person. I wonder sometimes if it was a sense of frantic lack of control, the idea that I would never be an independent, healthy adult? I wonder if I tried to protect them? Whatever the reason, it was a nearly uncontrollable, animal urge, and reduced me to an automaton at times. Like when I told the doctor I would not give him their phone number the day my heart stopped. I regret it, sometimes. On the hand, I lived through it.

And kept on my invincible course. If my heart stopping didn't kill me, what would? I wasn't a particular risk taker, although I enjoyed crazy hobbies like snowboarding and whitewater kayaking, and did weird, random acts of insanity like jumping from a perfectly good bridge into a shallow river and skydiving from a perfectly good plane. Oddly, cancer hasn't inspired a second surge of "Bucket list" type activities - instead, I am cataloging the simple pleasures and stocking up on hundreds of hugs from my kids and fabulous evenings with my husband.

Somewhere around the time of my radioactive iodine treatment, I began to feel vincible. Death, of which I had always been aware, didn't seem that much more real; but weakness did. I began to feel the life blood course a little slower, I felt the tautness melt out of my muscles as I gained extra pounds of flesh fed by stress, sorrow, and a drastically slowed metabolism.

This week, I had just one glimmer of the old self: in the chopping of the wood, the starting of two fires, the brave cooking outdoors on a windy, bone-dry spring day. The chatter of children floating on the wings of the wind, and moms reveling in the smoky morning tradition. For tradition it has become now, after 5 years: a sausage and pancake breakfast cooked over an open fire; the steam off the sap scenting the air; the walk up into the sugar stand to touch the skin of the maples and taste the drips of icy sap flowing down metal taps. I emerged from a week of extraordinary weakness to feel extraordinarily invincible once again.

Now I realize it is just another gift from God. Although I do fuel the fire of the energy myself, clawing down deep to find a hidden reservoir, He fans the flame. He gives the sun, and the unseasonable warmth, and the friends to help chop the logs and load them onto the fires. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. (Ps. 20:7-8)

I am invincible. This week especially, I am reminded that my Lord destroyed death. There is absolutely nothing that can destroy me...because I am covered with His righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10) His extraordinary strength has been completely revealed to me in my extraordinary weakness. Two days ago, I chopped wood like I was 20 again. Today, I am laid up with a chest cold-bordering-on-pneumonia due to my lowered immunity, and yet can hardly sleep because of the cancer suppression drugs that are currently wreaking havoc with all body systems. I take nothing for granted but this: Christ died, Christ is risen, Christ reigns!