This post was written for Five Minute Friday.
Word prompt--VOTE
Five minutes to free write about it.

This year, like many others, I chose to vote early, but voting means so much more than just casting my ballot in an election. It's the choices I make in my daily life--choices to do what is right and pleasing in the sight of the Lord, or choices to give in to the desires of my flesh.

As I struggle daily to overcome gluttony and slothfulness, I think of the words of Paul in Romans 15-18--I do not understand my own actions. ...  I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing. 

Jesus has the answer: Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the Spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

LORD, be glorified in my life. Help me to stand strong, and to vote for the things that honor you.



Took a little walk around my neighborhood to see the fall decorations. Some focused on the harvest season, and some on Halloween.

These were my favorites.


This post was written for Five Minute Friday.
Word prompt--DISAPPOINT
Five minutes to free write about it.

It's easy for me to feel disappointed when things don't turn out the way I expect them to, but sometimes there's a silver lining.

For instance, there's a field in town that used to have horses and donkeys grazing on it, always good subject matter for a photo shoot. My visits, however, ended with the pandemic. It didn't even cross my mind until a few days ago when I had a sudden yen to walk over and take pictures. Fully expecting to find the animals there, I was both shocked and disappointed to discover they were not.
As I stood stupefied, a rustling sound caught my attention and I saw a large family of squirrels scampering across the fence, leaping up into the tree, and skittering across the branches. Disappointment quickly turned to delight as I watched their antics for a while. 

They moved so quickly I was only able to capture these two babies who trailed the pack. I was, however, able to get lots of shots of the beautiful roses and flowers growing near the fence.

My walk may not have been what I expected it to be, but it certainly had a happy ending.



My original plan had been to vote at the polls on election day. However, being unexpectedly awakened in the wee hours by the worst toothache I've ever had, got me to thinking of the unpredictability of life, and how it might be more prudent to vote early just to be on the safe side.

The next unexpected was of a much brighter kind. An angel in the parking lot, disguised as a masked senior, told me my left front tire was looking soft, but not to worry. He would take care of it. And so he did.  

Using his pressure gauge, he determined that the tire was five pounds lower than what was recommended on the sticker inside the door, and since he just happened to have a portable air compressor as well, he was able to inflate the tire for me.



There's always something new to see on Inova Loudoun Hospital's campus in Leesburg, Virginia. Last week it was the three tanks I spotted while looking for a parking spot, and then some stop signs with brightly flashing lights near the exit.

I tried to get a shot of the flashing lights, but was disappointed to discover I had not been fast enough. Not one of the many pictures I took in rapid succession had been able to capture them. Maybe one day I'll go back and try again.

On the way home, I stopped at COSTCO for gas, where I spotted this fun assemblage attached to a pole. I pulled into the parking lot, but couldn't see Snoopy's face from there.

There was a little grassy bank separating the lot from the road, but it looked a little too steep for me, so I walked out and around, and gingerly made my way to the pole along the narrow shoulder. 

On my way back to the car, I noticed a bunch of coins strewn along the shoulder's inner edge, and upon entering the parking lot, saw this festive looking bush all decked out in red berries.



This post was written for Five Minute Friday.
Word prompt--HOLD
Five minutes to free write about it 

Confession: This week, though I tried to keep it short, I did not set the timer. Nor did I refrain from thinking about what I was writing. Hopefully I will be forgiven for this transgression by my fellow FMF friends.

As soon as I saw the weekly prompt, the words, "to have and to hold from this day forward..." flashed across my mind, and I was transported back to a time many years ago when I made a major life change based on the promises of a man I trusted, who prided himself on being a person of integrity, and who had assured me that his words could be banked on. When he asked me to marry him, I had no qualms about moving, or about burning all my bridges behind me. Everyone seemed happy for me, except one friend who warned me not to be so hasty. 

It wasn't long before I discovered that my friend's fears were well founded. There was no marriage, and there was no turning back. Just one big slice of humble pie, along with confirmation that God's word is the only word that can be banked on one hundred percent of the time.

I was angry at God for letting this happen to me, and wished there were someone else I could turn to. Of course there wasn't, and my mind was in such turmoil that I seriously considered ending my life on the curvy road of a West Virginia mountain. I could drive my car off one of its steep cliffs and everyone would think it was an accident. The only thing that stopped me was a fear of being crippled instead of dying.

In a state of helpless fury, I wept until there were no more tears left to cry, and then suddenly, I felt enveloped by a great peace, as though the Lord were holding me close and quieting me. An image flashed through my mind of a wild horse bucking one last time before finally calming down, and in that moment, I was able to release what was in my tightly clenched fists and open them up to receive something better.

When I look back in retrospect to that time of hopelessness, and even further back to the season of anguish and devastation following the loss of my spouse, I can clearly see how death led to newness of life, and closed doors opened to better ones that I would never have imagined possible.

With all these evidences of God's faithfulness, it shames me to admit that I still struggle with doubts and fears when faced with events I don't understand, and I am grateful beyond measure that God loves me unconditionally despite my shortcomings. He is the only one I can be sure will never give up on me, even when I'm ready to give up on myself.

When everything seems to be going wrong, these are the truths I need to cling to, and when my eyes start fixating on the little bits and pieces of the puzzle before me, I need to remind myself that God sees the whole picture, and is working things out for my good and His glory.



This post was written for HeartValveSurgery.com, as well as in response to the folks in my heart valve surgery support group on Facebook who ask for feedback as to whether or not they really need to proceed with a recommended surgery, given that they're asymptomatic. 

This is my story.

I was diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation about twelve years before my surgery, but it did not become severe until eight years later. At that point I started having biannual echocardiograms to keep an eye on it, and at each six month follow-up, even though the readings remained stable, my cardiologist would tell me I needed surgery to repair or replace the defective valve, and strongly urge me to do it while I was asymptomatic and my heart was still strong. When I asked what would happen if I did not have the surgery, he said I would eventually go into heart failure, the symptoms of which can be treated, but eventually it would lead to death.

Now, I am not afraid to die, but I am very much afraid of pain and suffering, so instead of heeding my cardiologist's advice, my faulty thinking went something like this: I am no longer young. My children are grown and have lives and families of their own. There is no one dependent on me. My echos have remained stable over the past several years, showing no evidence of damage to my heart. If I do experience heart failure, there are medications that can provide relief, and eventually, when my time is up, I can just check into hospice and pass peacefully into eternity. That, however, is not the way it played out. Instead, I was about to embark on the scariest, most traumatic experience of my life.

A couple of months after yet another stable echo, I started having trouble breathing when going up the stairs. It felt as though my hiatal hernia was pushing against my diaphragm, cutting off the airflow. This had happened before, but never so consistently, and over the next few days my shortness of breath worsened. Fear set in as I realized it was no longer triggered just by climbing stairs. 

I called a friend and asked him to take me to the Emergency Room. The only memory I have after that, is a vague one of signing myself in when we got to triage, and being whisked off in a wheelchair for the first of several tests. Nothing after that. Not even a memory of the numerous texts I sent my daughter telling her where I was, that my hernia was not the problem, that I had congestive heart failure and had been put on Lasix, and that I would be going home after they finished running the rest of the tests. 

I did not go home as planned. Two days later, instead of being discharged, I was intubated, hooked up to a ventilator, and moved to the Intensive Care Unit. Fluid around my heart caused by the severely regurgitating mitral valve had backed up into my lungs, creating intense respiratory distress. Putting off surgery to repair the valve was no longer an option. I had waited too long.

They transferred me to Inova Heart and Vascular Institute in Fairfax, Virginia, where the region's top cardiac surgeons were located. I arrived at their Coronary Care Unit heavily sedated with Propofol and Fentanyl, as well as with a case of staph pneumonia that had not been present when I was first admitted. I was on the ventilator for almost two weeks.

Surgery to repair my mitral valve was scheduled, then cancelled when preliminary testing revealed calcification. It would have to be replaced. However, I was deemed too ill to undergo the more invasive open heart surgery at this time. The only option would be a transcatheter MitraClip procedure, which was not a fix, but would help reduce the amount of regurgitation. That too was scheduled and then cancelled when a new challenge presented itself--severe cardiac arrhythmia in the form of irregular tachycardia and atrial fibrillation. My heartbeat was running wild--sometimes alarmingly fast, sometimes alarmingly slow. At one point paddles were used in an attempt to shock it back to a normal sinus rhythm, and I was given Amiodarone, a drug with potentially serious side effects, to try and stabilize it. 

There was some speculation as to whether or not I would be able to pull through, and an army of prayer warriors assembled as word spread about my condition. Together they battled the forces of darkness surrounding me and bombarded the Heavenlies on my behalf. I am convinced that I would not be here today, had it not been for their strong, unwavering faith as they fought the fight for me. 

Prayer prevailed. I emerged from the crisis weak, and unable to talk. The drugs had taken a toll, and though my body no longer hovered between life and death, my mind drifted in and out of a dream-like realm where reality and illusion seemed to merge, and hallucinations became the norm. 

For the sake of keeping this post from getting lengthier, I won't go into more detail about my hospital experience, but if you are interested in reading about it, it's all documented in my book, OIL OF MYRRH, along with the spiritual and emotional healing that took place. The only comment I would like to add is that this terrifying ordeal was a far cry from the peaceful scenario I had envisioned back when I had the opportunity to make a wiser choice.

Twenty-seven days after my admission to the hospital, I was released to a rehabilitation center, where for the next three weeks a team of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists worked diligently to help me overcome the after effects of my hospital stay. Muscles needed to be strengthened, simple tasks of daily living relearned, and damage to my vocal cords reversed. This was followed by another three weeks of rehab at home.

I did recover, but the results of the MitraClip were not what everyone had hoped for. It managed to diffuse the flow of the regurgitation, but did not actually reduce it. My cardiologist again recommended that I have open heart surgery to replace the valve while my heart was still strong, and this time I did not hesitate to follow his advice.

Three months after returning home, at the age of 78, I had open heart surgery to replace my mitral valve with a swine tissue one, which my surgeon assured me was large enough so that if/when it needed to be replaced down the road, the procedure could be done via trans catheter (TMVR). He also performed a MAZE procedure. 

It has now been two-and-a-half years since my surgery, and I have made a full recovery. Just six months out, after a blizzard, I went on a picture-taking walk that had me trekking almost three miles through huge drifts of snow.  

All this to say, as scary as open heart surgery may sound, it's not as bad as we think it's going to be. Yes, it is a huge deal, and I'm not in any way trying to minimize it, but compared to the unnecessary trauma I subjected myself to, it was a piece of cake. 




This post was written for Five Minute Friday.
Word prompt--HELP
Five minutes to free write about it.

To the left is a beautiful sentiment someone posted on Facebook that caught my eye. It seems right in line with this week's FMF word prompt.

One of the things that gives me the most joy is to be able to make someone happy by helping them in some way. In fact, seeing their happiness probably makes me feel even happier than they are. I think that's why Acts 20:35b says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." 


As I walked around my neighborhood enjoying the changing landscape, I thought of how this year, October had ushered in more than the colorful autumn season. It had also marked the beginning of a new decade in my life, a season that would perhaps be the home stretch. 

Memories welled up that were bittersweet. Shattered dreams, things done I wish I had not, missed opportunities, poor choices with far reaching effects, and most haunting of all, pain unintentionally caused to those I loved. Not a very good read.  But God...

And now, back to the dangling sentence I left you with at the beginning of this post--"But God...." His timing is always perfect, and at the end of the day, He had a word of encouragement for me to ponder.

Since the pandemic, I've been visiting various churches via Livestream, as well as binge watching Pastor Gary Hamrick's sermons from the teaching archives at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg. Pastor Gary preaches straight through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, a process that takes quite a few years. I've been watching the sermons in order, and we were up to Gideon in the book of Judges. 

The message felt so personal it took me by surprise. Two statements in particular, addressed the very thoughts I had been grappling with on my morning walk, and it was as though the Lord were speaking directly to my heart.

The first was, that to get up every day and live a routine, mundane, everyday, ordinary life takes courage, and sometimes this kind of courage is harder to maintain than performing a mighty feat, because it's a consistent courage that demands strong, steady, ongoing faith.  

The second statement was both a question and an exhortation. What will the last chapters of your life read like? It really doesn't matter as much what kind of start you got off to. What matters is that you finish well. 

My prayer is that the last chapter of my life would be a good read, that the Lord would help me keep on keeping on, and that He would be glorified in the everyday, mundane ways of my life. May He enable me to finish strong, and finish well.