Tag Archives: belief

A Year of Hitting the Reset Button


IMG_3367August 1, 2014:  The doctor said, “You have a blood clot in each lung.”

At first, I had no idea the gravity of those words. I just knew I was in excruciating pain and could hardly breathe.

It began with a stab of pain in my right leg that startled me awake during a Colorado vacation many nights before. I figured leg pain must mean a running injury, so I iced, heated, stretched and nursed my right calf for 3 days.

The pain stopped after a long Sunday morning walk. Incredible! Gone as quickly as it came. But hours later a new discomfort near my lower left rib cage announced itself. Discomfort became a dull ache on Monday. A dull ache gave way to piercing pain on Tuesday. I knew something must be wrong.

A trip to Urgent Care revealed fluid in the lower left lobe of my lungs. Translation: pneumonia. Armed with a diagnosis and powerful antibiotics, I felt relief. By Friday, it was so much worse. Now the pain was unrelenting. It was a struggle to take every breath.

Round two at Urgent Care. But X-rays showed the same diagnosis. Steroids were added to my arsenal of medicine and I was ready to leave. That’s when he knocked on the door and stepped inside for a few short minutes. A doctor whose children go to the school where I work. He knew I was there and took a few moments to check on me.

“Denise, I am so sorry you don’t feel better. You should feel better.”

“I know. This is crazy. I was running and hiking in Colorado last week and now I can hardly breathe to speak one sentence.”

“Wait! You traveled last week? Did you fly?”

“No, we drove.”

“Would you stay and let me do a CT scan and rule out blood clots? It’s not very likely since you drove, but let’s just make sure.”

A 75 word conversation that probably saved my life – in more ways than one….


It’s a year today since I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in each lung.  I spent almost five days in the hospital and months in recovery.  During that time, God has helped me hit the reset button in my life several times, both physically and spiritually.  I doubt the journey is complete, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far on these two converging paths of healing:

BREATHING – A PE takes your breath away, and eventually your life by blocking the blood flow of one or more arteries in the lungs.  Sometimes very quickly. In my case, ever so slowly.  My lungs fought off the blood clots for days without giving up.

Disappointment and anger can have a similar effect on our souls when we allow them to block the flow of hope and forgiveness.   I’ve had to acknowledge how much I allowed a deep disappointment to rob me of spiritual breath.  No more do I want to allow my spiritual air to be stolen by life’s circumstances.

PEACE – I was so scared. I had no idea how soon the danger would subside. Misery and pain stooped by my bedside that first night in the hospital.  I heard words like, “check for lung cancer,” all while throwing up from so much pain medication.

In the 2 a.m. darkness I prayed, “God, please give me peace. I am scared. I don’t know what is going to happen.”  But, peace did not surround me like I imagined and I fell asleep in a haze of disappointment because I think I expected to feel something like a spiritual warm fuzzy.

I have prayed for many people, that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding would come and be real and present. So, imagine my surprise that I did not feel that peace the way I had expected it.  I think in those moments, I experienced a fraction of the disappointment that good friends have felt when they cried out to God for peace in the midst of tremendous pain and loss.  I was humbled by how much courage it takes to say that prayer and cling to it.

The next morning when my eyes opened, the first thing I saw was the sunrise through a smudgy, plexiglass hospital window.  It was the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen!  A strong, sentinel like peace surrounded me.  It wasn’t a peace that took away fear or pain. It was a peace that assured me that God had been present and tirelessly at work  –  and would not leave me even if danger persisted.

SCAR TISSUE – The clots are gone now. It took about 6 months for them to dissolve. But, there are residual issues. I had to go on a steroid inhaler in February because in the words of my doctor, I was “breathing well for an 84 year old!”  I also have this discomfort in my lower left rib cage area every once in a while.  My last CT revealed that the blood clot on the left side damaged the lung and scar tissue remains in its place. I think that means a small part of my lung died. Regardless if the discomfort I feel is actually from the scar tissue, it reminds me how fragile and precious life is.  It also reminds me that it took a part of me physically dying to recognize that I was spiritually losing ground by allowing old pains to live on in my present reality.

In all of it, God has repeated a clear question over and over.  “Do you trust me with your life, your health, your hopes, your dreams, your mishaps, your bad choices, your pride, your gluttony, your fear, your talents, your family, your EVERYTHING????!!!!!

Each day has been an exercise in saying “Yes, God I trust you. You know I do. Or at least I am learning what that really means and seriously want to live it. And you know that you will probably have to remind me again tomorrow.”

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The Hope in Me

(one of the first songs I wrote – just the lyrics here)

Hope is what I’ve always longed for

Hope that is complete

To know that I am not alone

A wanderer in need – something more…

     Love that’s so amazing that he

     cradles suns and moons

     And at the same time he is reaching

     down from heaven’s room reminding me that

I know one who knows me

And I can see him clearly

In rain that tumbles down

And sunsets on the sea

In autumn reds and browns

He’s the hope in me

There are no questions without answers

Just some beyond my reach

Worlds of wisdom cannot fathom

The simple mystery – about the one

     Love that’s so amazing that

     He knows my deepest need

     He is my peace, my joy, my rescue

     And still he is the king

I know one who knows me

And I can see him clearly

It’s blazed upon the stars

It’s burning in my heart

He’s never very far – away

He’s the hope in me

     Hope is what I’ve always longed for

     Hope that is complete.

-dm 1998

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Outgrowing Jesus

I meet lots of people who used to believe. 

They used to put their hope in something bigger than themselves.  They once followed a path that gave them answers, made sense of life’s nonsense and gave them a deep well of joy and purpose.  These friends once believed in Jesus.

But something changed.  Somewhere along the way, the wear and tear of growing up and facing more complicated issues, wrestling with deeper struggles, and enduring more profound loss caused the fire of that faith to be smothered.  And even if they desperately want to believe, they have forgotten how to live in that belief.

Just a few days ago, I heard “Where are You Christmas?” from the movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  I’m a lyrics girl, so I’m always listening to what the song is trying to communicate through the music and the words.  As I listened to the child’s voice ask the searching questions, it dawned on me that in most places of this song, you can replace the word “Christmas” with “Jesus.”  Take a second to listen to the song as Faith Hill sings it and insert “Jesus” wherever you hear “Christmas”:

That might be the faith heartache of your life.  Where are you Jesus?  Where are you when I have so much to face.  Why did you go away?  My life looks very different from the days when it seemed easy to believe and follow you.  Things have been turned upside-down in my life.  I’ve got a lot more questions than answers, now.  Does that mean all that I had hoped in gets turn upside down, too?

For some of us, maybe the questions of the next verse sum it up.  Where are you Jesus?  Do you even remember me?  I’m not the same as I was – I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  Is that why it feels like  you’ve let me go?

It’s almost as if we are supposed to outgrow believing in Jesus, just like we eventually stop believing in Santa Claus.  Many give up on the childlike notion that God could love us no matter what, meet us wherever we are, accept us regardless of what we’ve done, heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon us and be big enough to answer our toughest questions.

It is an absurdity, I’ll admit.  It doesn’t make much sense to the logical mind to believe in Jesus.   Just like the story of Santa is rooted in the real life events of the amazing St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra who lived around the 3rd century, it would make more sense to acknowledge that yes, Jesus was real person, and a great one at that, but that his redemptive story of saving us with a not-of-this-world kind of strength that actually brought him back to life, really just became a part of the sweet children’s tale that evolved about him through history.

Here’s the catch though.  All those fun details of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer and red suits and of course, the supernatural ability to get around the entire world in one night, well that’s all folklore that’s been added by us, the people who love the  story.  And, many of those details have been added as recently as the last few centuries. 

But, the miracle of Jesus being “God with us”, healing people from miserable diseases, feeding crowds of thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread, dying on the cross for us and then kicking death in the pants so he could come back for us, and offering to be our way, our truth and our life – all those were real-life God-powered events that people really saw over and over again.  The details of his life were written by those who actually knew him or lived as a contemporary of him.  And even more amazingly, things like where he would be born, how he would die and the kind of power he would have were all foretold and written about long before he even lived.  His life story needed no magical embellishments.  This real life story has been retold not because of how much people loved the story of this man, but because of the outrageous way that this man loved us.

The truth is that Jesus is here.  He hasn’t gone away.  He hasn’t let go…and he won’t.  He knows your life is different – and by the way, he does recognize you.  He misses you and would love nothing better than for you to embrace your belief again, realizing that a whimsical story cannot outlast childhood, but the extraordinary, living, breathing hero of the story can withstand whatever doubt or circumstance you face.

We may outgrow a limited understanding of who Jesus was and still is, but he will never grow out of his persistent desire for us to know him in deeper ways, and still see him  with the strong, believing eyes of a child.

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.  John 20:30-31

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Floodlight of hope

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine…For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called:
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Who do I know whose life is cold or weary?  Who in my daily encounters has lost their way on a dark path?  Who is longing for some real assurance about their life being worthwhile?  Who needs the floodlight of hope to be switched on today?

Incredibly absurd as it may seem, that hope can be found in a baby whose name means “The Lord Saves”, and whose nickname (Emmanuel) means “God with us”!  These names, the story that goes with these names are all very familiar.  I’ve gotten rather used to them.  Too comfortable sometimes it seems.  When that happens, my spiritual light goes dim – so much so that the story of Jesus no longer illuminates my soul or enables me to offer a lantern of hope to anyone else’s darkness.

But the words of Isaiah 9, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ light shined on the earth, remind me that my hope is in these remarkable, highly unlikely promises.  I have to remember when I am guilty of unbelief for my own heart or for someone else that God loves to make the unrealistic, real.  He delights in shock and awe.  In our own limited human experience, he longs for us to recognize that he is without limitation.

So, he asks us to enter into a small stable and put our hope in a baby.  A baby whose life story is possibly the most well-known in history.  A baby who would grow up to serve, give, heal, encourage, challenge, and sacrifice.  A baby who would know both human frailty and God’s boundless power.  A baby who would one day say yes to a cross he did not deserve – all to keep the light of hope burning in our hearts.  All so we would trust that God is there, he does love us and longs to walk beside us.  All so we would step into a life that lives, breathes and finds sustenance in the warmth of that light.

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God with us…really?

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[f] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Isaiah 7:14

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust.

God with us.  Trying to unpack those three words is a bit overwhelming.  With no verb, there is not a time frame to when God is with us.  Wherever we are in our lives – our vast geographies, our span of experiences, our unique situations – God is with us.


God with us in our distractions.

God with us in the things we cannot control.

God with us in our celebrations.

God with us in the mundane things.

God with me in my loss.

God with me when I am searching.

God with me when I fail.

God with me in my frustrations.

God with me in a moment of utter joy.

God with me, nudging me, loving me and coming after me when I choose to not be with him.


Denise McKinney

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