Series: On becoming a professional writer by Bonnie Toews (Part 6)
6. Re-wiring the Brain
That heart attack when I had just turned 40 brought my life to a standstill. Even though I fought every angina attack like a bear, the angina attacks increased. Most days we celebrated when I got up and cooked a meal. I was constantly short of breath. Wally could see I wasn’t getting better and tried to introduce me to vitamin therapy and the miraculous aloe vera juice. The vitamin therapy actually increased the angina because I have so many sensitivities, which also ended my taking the aloe vera juice because after six months on it I also reacted to it.
By now I was feeling quite discouraged. I understood that arterial spasms were causing the angina, not clogged arteries. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels were normal. I passed the treadmill stress test with flying colors but one hour later had a dandy angina attack. The heart specialist explained that when the artery spasmed shut, the blood had nowhere to flow, so when it banged up against the blockage, the blood clotted and when the artery reopened, the clot was free to travel anywhere, including to my brain. He emphasized that as soon as I felt tired or drained of energy I was to take nitroglycerine because it was crucial that I keep the arteries open. Sudden tiredness was a silent message. If I continued to deny what was happening, I was playing Russian Roulette with my life. If I wanted to survive, one thing I would have to work on was my attitude.
That afternoon, I tried to do a simple thing – put a picture up on the wall. As I went to hang it slightly above my reach, angina struck – a nasty seizure. In defeat, I took the nitroglycerine immediately. Afterward, when it passed, I went into the bedroom and let the tears of frustration flow. It was then that I remembered the movie about Peter Marshall, the charismatic Washington preacher played by Richard Todd, and Jean Peters as his wife, Catherine. In it, Peter prays in despair because Catherine who has TB is growing weaker. His radio sermon for that Sunday morning was about the woman who touched Jesus’ robe and was healed. Catherine, as she listened to Peter, told God she could no longer fight the disease. She was too weak and she was His to take. In that moment of letting go of control over her own life, a miracle happened. She turned the corner and started to heal.
In that moment remembering this scene, I also let go of my anger and my dogged determination to beat it, and prayed to God, facing that I belonged to Him and only He could heal me. There was no instant miracle but my attitude changed. I gave my body permission to be sick, and I returned to a deeper awareness of God in everything I did.
By this time, I was also experiencing aphasia. Sometimes my husband and daughter laughed at the strange words inserted into a sentence. Their expression would make me pause and I would go back over what I just said and discover what popped out of my mouth was a meaningless word, yet when I tried to think of what I meant to say, my mind was a blank screen. So then, we played Charades until Wally or Trish found the word I was searching for.
It was even more frustrating when I was home alone, and I didn’t have them to fill in the blanks. I could look at a chair, or a paper clip – the simplest object a two-year-old could name — and not know the word for it.
As a teacher years before, I had read about re-wiring the brain, so with a quick prayer to God, I decided to re-teach myself vocabulary. I started to read the dictionary and discovered fascinating words about things I knew I had never learned before. One was amanita, a poisonous mushroom that grows on tap roots.
And since I couldn’t work, I had time to read any book I chose. Often I would come across a word I didn’t know and I would have to look it up in the dictionary. I recorded each word I didn’t recognize and its meaning. Writing it down reinforced it.
It was also the beginning of special sessions with God. I would ask Him a question before I would take the Bible in my hands, run my fingers along the outside pages of the closed Bible, feel a sensation in my finger tips and split the Bible open on that page. Then I would close my eyes to feel His presence and gradually trace my forefinger in small circles over the open pages until I would feel a tingling over that spot, open my eyes and read that specific passage. His answers amazed me, for they always told me directly what I needed to know. This is the time when the Lord and I built a strong bond.
One day, He directed me to the passage: “Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.”– Psalm 37:4.
The desires of my heart? Really? I could choose. He wasn’t telling me what His plan was for me. I can picture Him smiling, can’t you? Of course, the desires of your heart come from Him, but at that stage of our relationship, He let me think I still had some control.
Next: Discovering the desires of my heart
Author’s Bio: Through a career that has ranged from teacher to editorial director of 30 business magazines, Canadian journalist Bonnie Toews has covered significant events such as the 20th Century’s international humanitarian relief effort following the Rwandan genocide. As a result of this experience, the plight of children in war is a recurring theme in her novels. She has published hundreds of articles and won five Canadian business press awards. Her website explores the passion and research behind her novel writing. Currently, she is a member of the Military Writers Society of America, American Authors Association and American Christian Fiction Writers.