On June 7, 2010, God gave me a gift. It was totally unexpected. I didn’t put it on any wish list. There was no colorful wrapping paper. No pretty bow. It was wrapped in a massive heart attack and a summer in the ICU fighting for my life. Inside was the most amazing present imaginable. That night, God gave me the gift of more time.
The medical crisis and subsequent diagnosis of heart failure slowed my life down so much that I have time to reflect about what it all means. Trying to understand why these kinds of things happen can drive a person crazy or it could lead one to acceptance and true enlightenment. After a few years of dwelling on the “what ifs,” I decided to accept the offering. It’s been a gift that keeps on giving. I learn something new every day.
As I moved along my faith journey, I wondered if there would be an “aha” moment, a thunderbolt of illumination that explained everything. The more time I spent thinking about faith, however, the more unlikely it appeared that there would be that magic moment. It turns out that understanding and fully accepting God’s will is a process. Although I yearned for something, anything, to tie it all together, it didn’t seem like it was going to happen.
Then it happened about three weeks ago, suddenly and without warning. The clouds opened up and… No, not really. Actually it was a sunny day.
Nevertheless, the “aha” moment had arrived. I heard God’s voice. It came by way of singer Dionne Warwick.
Let me explain…
I once thrived on working in organized chaos and seat of the pants decision-making. My life now depends on routine to maximize energy. Each day starts off with a bowl of oatmeal, fruit, and juice. After gulping a handful of pills, I go out for my daily walk to McDonalds to sip a decaf and read the latest book that has piqued my interest. I’m currently reading a comprehensive bio on Alexander Hamilton.
I take the same route every day. It’s about 2 miles round trip. I split the walk into three phases: 6 minutes to my dear friend Vanessa’s house, 6 more minutes to the small bridge that crosses a creek onto the Evergreen Valley College campus, and 5 minutes through a field to my regular seat at McDonalds.
After retracing my steps home, I take a shower and start my day working on consulting and volunteer projects. I take breaks throughout the day to check in on cable news.
During my walks, I listen to different genres of music. On any given day, anything could come out through the earphones. I’ve even acquired a taste for English baroque. Usually, I choose a theme before hiking down the street. It could be Handel or Sinatra one day and Shakira or Drake the next. It might be a week of norteño, tejano conjunto, and mariachi or a few days of old school funk and 60s pop.
That’s where Dionne Warwick comes in. That day three weeks ago, I strolled to my coffee hangout listening to classic Burt Bacharach and Hal David music. Somewhere between Vanessa’s house and the bridge, the Warwick hit, “What the World Needs Now is Love,” blasted in my ears. Those of you in my age group probably heard this tune when Jerry Lewis used to announce the amount of money raised for muscular dystrophy at the end of his annual Labor Day telethons.
As I reminisced about those days, an overwhelming sense of happiness washed over me. It wasn’t a specific memory that triggered the sensation. This time was different. It was a feeling I had never experienced. Rather than temporary elation that comes with a happy moment, this feeling was warm and secure. I felt a powerful sense of balance and pure joy. I replayed the song again and again.
I listened to the words closely as I walked. Warwick was telling God that the world had plenty of mountains, rivers, and natural beauty. The world needed more love, she sang out.
There it was. My “aha” moment! God was speaking to me through Dionne Warwick’s angelic voice. Love was…is…the answer. That’s the secret to faith.
Love comes in many forms. There’s the caring love a parent has for a child or the passionate romantic love we have for significant others. We love our brothers, sisters and friends, but in different ways. Then there’s the kind of love for inanimate objects. I love Maui Zowie pizza and the squeaking sound sneakers make when rubbing against a basketball floor.
The love that enveloped me on that walk three weeks ago was different. It was Divine love. The unconditional love that God and the universe have for all living things. St. Paul the Apostle wrote about this kind of love in a letter to the Corinthians. If you’ve ever been to a Christian wedding, you’ve heard it.
After listening to the song and reading Hal David’s lyrics for what seemed like the hundredth time, I reviewed St. Paul’s letter over and over. Each time I read it, the words jumped off the page:
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
That’s the answer! That’s the key to faith. That’s the foundation of true happiness and joy. It’s simple, yet complex.
Raised in the cocoon of my childhood, I felt that kind of love as a kid. My parents loved me without condition and I returned the devotion. The first few years of adulthood slapped me around. That’s when it dawned on me that not everyone lived in the same space. Calluses formed around my soul as a protective measure. My inner core felt love while my outer shell sensed danger.
Like everyone, I want to be happy. As a boy, I was content with just being. That’s what St. Paul wrote about and God teaches us. As a man, I sought happiness in other ways. After an initial failure at college, I worked hard to overcome the feelings of hopelessness. Accomplishment brought superficial and temporary happiness, so I worked harder. Living at warp speed soothed the scabs that covered my sores.
My parents, Sandra, the girls, and those close to me have taught me so much about love. That fulfilled my inner core. When the heart attack changed my life, the scabs that protected me from the outside world peeled off. The inability to work without fatigue, rack up accomplishments, and attend non-stop social events left me bare.
My faith journey has taught me that all of those external things that made me happy were self-centered. [Love] does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. To feed the addiction, I thought I needed more. What I really needed was hiding inside me, unafraid of exposure. [Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
This truth started becoming apparent that summer in the waiting room. While I fought for my life in a medically-induced coma a few doors away in the ICU, God taught me that love would save the day. When I foolishly tried to go back to work and my world collapsed, God strengthened my circle of love. The love that inhabited my soul since childhood chipped away at the protective armor built by years of living and working in an unforgiving world.
As each day wore on, my faith grew stronger and hope became more authentic. The love that filled that little’s boy’s soul so many years ago edged closer to the surface left raw by heart disease. Without the layers of distractions that work, constant social interaction, and pats in the back provided, I patiently sought the answer to happiness. God gave me the answer through the music in my heart and in my earphones. Hal David and Dionne Warwick delivered His message.
I’m not naïve. The world is a tough place. The notion of Divine love is nothing more than a heaping mound of idealistic mush to some people. But happiness isn’t about how others show their love to you. It’s about sharing your love with others. [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. That’s the secret sauce.
God’s gift to me on June 7, 2010, has been an amazing journey. I have some work to do to fully appreciate all that He has offered. I’m still working on forgiving the perceived offenses against me. [Love] keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. I’m beginning to understand that I should be grateful for those unfortunate events in my life. They are part of the story that defines who I am.
The journey has had many peaks and valleys. There are times when I want to give up. I now know that Divine love won’t allow me to do that. God has put me on a steady course. St. Paul put it all in perspective in Chapter 1; Verse 13 of his letter in to the Corinthians.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.