Faith Identity

Seven Years

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I found my dad dead. By all accounts, he had died two days prior. He died sitting up reading the sports section of the newspaper. He was 79. Although no autopsy was performed, all the signs indicate he died of a massive heart attack.

Less than Two Years Later

I found myself under the knife having a quadruple heart bypass surgery. CABG, as it is known in medical terms; Coronary Artery Bypass Graft. I was hooked up to a heart/lung machine. They stopped my heart and my chest was sawn open. For nearly four hours my heart didn’t beat. I was kept alive by a perfusionist who monitored the heart/lung machine. It took four shocks to my heart to get it beating on its own, again.

Rocks Your World

As I often say, whether you love Jesus or not, when you face heart surgery it rocks your world.  One’s mortality comes into view. Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? What changes does God want for me? What is my new normal?

My cardiologist and my surgeon both said had I not had my heart surgery when I did, I was weeks away from something massive happening.  I had artery blockage like my dad apparently had, they just caught mine twenty-three years earlier than his.

That first year after surgery was extremely difficult. I struggled with discouragement and depression. Six weeks straight of initial home recovery, redefining the normal, new ways to handle stress, trusting God in ways I hadn’t up until then. Redefining my identity and accepting weaknesses and setbacks in my abilities became a constant battle in my heart. 

Who am I and who am I becoming?  

Psalm 139: 5-6

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:5‭-‬6 ESV

I’ve clung to these verses. They’ve been my lifeline to God. He surrounds me. He is behind me reconciling and restoring my past. He has my back, protecting me from ambush, and teaching me to make sense of my past. 

He also has my future. God is going before me writing his story in me.  Not a day goes by that he is not shaping my journey.

What gets me most of all, what touches my soul and captures my heart is that God lays his hand on me. When someone puts their hand on you, they are physically close. Their hand is an affirmation of delight and love.  It’s the “I believe in you” hand of assurance.  Oh, how my soul starved for that growing up.  Would it take a major surgery to help me understand this?  As Romans 8 clearly says, those who are in Christ are beloved sons.

Seven Years

It’s been seven years since my heart surgery. Almost nine since my dad died. I’ve had two heart catheterizations since surgery. The first one found an inoperable aneurysm on my right coronary artery graft. As a result, my doctor ordered a minimum of one-hundred-fifty minutes of cardio weekly. “Yes sir!” Between that and the regimen of meds I’m on, my vitals are in more or less good order. In fact, my cardiologist told me I could skip a year of testing because of my good numbers! 

Ask those who know me what’s changed.  Perhaps I am a bit closer to understanding what living by the Holy Spirit looks like. Not perfectly but increasingly so. Perhaps. All I know is the truths of Psalm 139 ring true this side of heart surgery. In fact, of any crisis you or I experience. 

Life is Short

Youthfulness brings a sense of immortality. It’s as if I can do anything and survive to tell the story. I recall climbing a total of forty-thousand feet of mountains in the Austrian Alps one summer when I was 22.  I could conquer the world! There’s been a few times I’ve had close calls with death. A near-miss highway accident, a slip on a mountain that sent me towards a cliff’s edge to the valley below. Put a crisis in your story, shake up your plans, throw in a few wrenches and you quickly realize that life is short.  You could be talking with your dad on Friday and a few days later find him gone.  

You’re Depressing Me

Am I? Think back seven years ago in your own life. How old were you? What was going on back then? Pull out some photos and look at the people you were with. Consider where you were spiritually. Was God even a part of your life? Perhaps God’s been writing his story in you and you haven’t noticed. All those turns and twists in the road. Maybe that was God drawing you to himself?  He longs for you. James 4:5 tells us that he longs for the spirit that he created in us. 

What’s It Going to Take?

Truly, I would never wish heart surgery or any other crisis on you. Never in a million years!  But, if that is what it takes to get you laser-on a deeper relationship with him, then bring it on!

I couldn’t say this seven years ago, but I can now, thank God for my heart surgery. For the grace of more life, for a deeper walk with him and those I love. 

Where will you be seven years from now?

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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