I’ve known Melissa for a long time. Long enough to remember her leading cheers at a pep rally in the high school gym. Long enough to remember thinking as a lowly sixth grader when she was a high and mighty ninth grader, “I want to be just like her when I grow up.”
And not much has changed. I still want to be like her when I grow up. Because while some have True Hearts (see last week’s post to find out how a True Heart is defined) because of circumstances they did not choose, Melissa chose her circumstances. And the choice to have a True Heart is one she makes on a day-to-day basis and will continue to make for the rest of her life.
Melissa married Ted almost eleven years ago, and I can honestly say it was one of the most sacred, beautiful wedding ceremonies I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. Because while most brides stand throughout their nuptial ceremony, Melissa chose to sit down. She sat because the man she was marrying was sitting beside her in a wheelchair.
Ted was an active, athletic young man of twenty-seven when he had his accident nearly twenty years ago. One moment he was running through life, full speed ahead, and the next moment he was paralyzed from the chest down, never to walk again. A tough pill for any person to swallow. But after having known Ted now for nearly fifteen years, I have never seen someone embrace suffering with so little regard for self. Most of the time when I am with him, I forget about the wheelchair. I forget that daily pain and loss is involved in the life of Ted Tredennick because he makes you forget. He pushes past the wheelchair in his attitude and conversation, so you have the freedom to do so too.
The same is true with Melissa. She doesn’t talk much about the day in and day out routine of living life with a man in a wheelchair beside her, so I find myself forgetting about it as well.
But recently, when Ted was forced on bed rest for six weeks because of a dangerous and life-threatening sore he had developed, the wheelchair I tend to forget forced its way to the forefront and I had to remember…remember that their lives look different than mine. Remember that both of them are forced to walk through life with suffering and loss on a daily basis. Remember that when I take the time to peel back the layers and ask the tough questions and look through a different sort of lens, that both of them have tough, True Hearts that come with the price of great surrender and many tears.
Last week we looked at what the definition of a True Heart is, so this week and in the weeks following, I want to look at several real life examples of people I know and love who walk through life with True Hearts on a daily basis. And while I love Ted dearly, it is Melissa’s heart that I want to look at today (sorry, Ted).
I had the opportunity to ask Melissa some questions about how she walks through life with a True Heart, and here were some of her responses. I pray they bless and challenge you as much as they challenged me:
Question: Think back to your first year of marriage to the present. Do you think you have more of a True Heart now than in year one of marriage? If so, why?
Melissa’s Response: Yes, I certainly would hope so! Through the years, I’ve definitely come more face to face with my own weaknesses, persistent sins, and sin roots. They are just In my face more and I realized I couldn’t move forward in life or in my relationship with the Lord without working on them. I think letting those weaknesses and sins surface on a regular basis is the Lord’s way of making you work on them. I just keep realizing I have so far to go and there is more than I realized beneath the surface. I think before you get married, you can get by when you are living for yourself. But then you try to live a life with someone else and you can’t do that anymore. You have to deal with yourself. The first year of marriage was a great deal about the realization, “I am NOT who I thought I was.”
Question: How has walking through life with Ted’s wheel chair helped to develop in you a True Heart?
Melissa’s Response: Developing a True Heart has been difficult. It’s very humbling because I am more often humbled by my pride and recognition of my pride than most people because I see it all the time. It’s hard to get through a day without seeing some part of my flesh respond or react to the wheelchair in a prideful way. Pride has also probably been the greatest obstacle to living life with a True Heart because we don’t look like the perfect family. Deep down, I want to look like everyone else and blend in, but I don’t. I don’t handle it like everyone thinks I do, and that’s very humbling because I know the real truth about myself. Being called to marry Ted doesn’t make it easy for me. It’s hard…and that’s humbling. I have to seek help from the Lord on a daily basis to get to the bottom of my pride and my desire to “fit in.” I am miserable inside if I go with my pride, but when I am able to press in to the Lord and get over myself, that is when I am able to move on.
Question: What is the greatest challenge to keeping a true heart in the midst of the day in and day out challenges of Ted being confined to a wheelchair?
Melissa’s Response: It’s confronting pride and self in the nuts and bolts and practical things of every day life. I am always moving at a fast pace through life; I am always rushing. I was that way even before I met Ted. The hardest thing for me is always waiting for someone who has to move at a much slower pace. The wheelchair forces me to slow down and get past myself, my rushing, my demands, and WAIT.
Question: When things grow difficult with Ted’s disability, i.e. sickness, hospitalization, and it is easy to fear, how do you choose to pursue and maintain a True Heart?
Melissa’s Response: On my knees in the morning. I cannot make it unless I begin my day by seeking and surrendering to the Lord. Actually, I can make it, but I will be miserable and feel terrible inside if I don’t. It is easy to fear but prayer soothes my heart because I have entrusted it to Someone who is greater than I am. Sometimes, the most powerful prayer I can muster is, “Come, Holy Spirit come; I am not going to be nice, or this is not going to be pretty, so You are going to have to step in here.” Or sometimes all I can manage is, “Holy Spirit, just help.” I have learned in prayer that for it to be effective and real, your prayers must be real. I am a real sinner with real needs, and I have to live with my real self. So my prayers have to real as well.
Question: What things help you on your best days? On your worst days?
Melissa’s Response: Chocolate. A phone call or the presence of a friend. Often times, the thing that helps the most is seeing into Ted’s heart and seeing what is really there – how he is feeling, how the wheelchair affects him on a day in and day out basis. On the days that I am lacking in compassion, it’s hard. Compassion isn’t always my strength (and that might be a good thing because of our circumstances – there are many days the best thing I can do is simply to toughen up), but compassion certainly helps when it is present.
Question: Looking back on your life before you married Ted, what things did you do, perhaps unknowingly, that prepared you for your marriage to Ted?
Melissa’s Response: I think that is a great question, and while I would like to say my heart was prepared for marriage because of all the wonderful things I did, I have to give much of the credit to my dad. My dad is a Godly man who spends every single morning on his knees in prayer. Every single day of my life, my dad prayed five specific things for the man I was going to marry. And when I met Ted, Ted had every single one of those qualities. But my dad also reminded me on days that were tough, “I never prayed he could walk.” I truly believe my dad’s prayers not only helped to shape Ted’s heart, but they helped to prepare mine to walk through life with Ted.
Question: What about the things you have done over the past 5 years? Over the past year?
Melissa’s Response: Several years ago, I came to the end of myself in life. I was lower than low – so I sought out a mentor. We’ve been meeting for two years now, and we meet every other week for three hours. It helps to have someone to vent to, someone who will listen and simply say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that is so hard.” But the one thing that helps the most and that we always do together is pray. Having someone pray with me and over me consistently now for three years has been life-changing. Through prayer, she has taught me how to be dependent on the Lord – how to take my heart and my issues and my struggles to Him and simply to invite Him to come. To come in and change me and make me new. I will be eternally indebted to her for that.
Question: Who, or what, inspires you to keep a True Heart to the Lord?
Melissa’s Response: My children. There is nothing more motivating than my love for them and there is nothing more that I want them to have than a phenomenal relationship with the Lord for themselves. Modeling what that looks like for them on a daily basis is my greatest desire.
After listening to Melissa’s responses to my questions, I was able to confidently look at my friend and say, “Like the Psalmist of old, your flesh and your heart may fail, but God is the strength of your heart and your portion forever. In you, my friend, is a True Heart.” (Psalm 73:26). May her heart encourage each of us to live courageously and in truth as well.
The past few weeks, tragic news has crashed upon the shores of my life with resounding frequency.
While still in Scotland visiting my brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and niece, we received news that a dear family friend, Matt Baker, had been diagnosed with fast-growing lymphoma. He was quickly admitted to M.D. Anderson and treatment began right away.
Two weeks after returning home from Scotland, Jason called me with the news that a Godly man in our church died quite suddenly and expectedly from heart failure while on vacation with his beautiful wife in Switzerland. He was only 49 years old. He was not only a pillar in our church, a mentor in our adult Sunday School class to many men, including my husband, a beloved husband and father, but also the only brother to my dear friend Shannon.
And then two days ago we got the call from my brother in Scotland that the third child they are expecting in March is not doing well. The baby is missing part of its leg from the knee down and has cysts in the stomach, facing possible chromosomal issues. The report from the doctor was that the baby may not live, or if he or she does live, could have serious complications at birth and through life. Tough news to take in for any family. But especially when your loved one is several thousand miles away with an ocean spanning the miles between you.
Yesterday the weight of sorrow crashed in on me like a wave. I went to see Matt and Kathe at M.D. Anderson while they waited for Matt to begin his second round of treatment. And while Matt looked great (in fact, with his newly shaved head, I told him he looks just like Bruce Willis!), there was suffering all around me. People laying on couches, sitting in chairs, all with somber expressions and quiet voices. People seriously and desperately fighting the same deadly, unseen enemy in their own body or the body of a loved one.
And all the while, I could not stop thinking about my brother and sister-in-law. I remember well what it feels like to receive news that the little one you are carrying inside of you is not doing well, has life-threatening issues, and where the only road ahead of you, either in the child’s death or life, appears laden with sorrow.
But while sorrow sang its tune in my heart, another tune prevailed that was stronger, louder, deeper, and truer.
I woke up yesterday morning with words from a worship song running through my head: “You are the strength of my heart, You are the strength of my heart, I can rely on You, Jesus I trust in You…” And then I turned in my Bible to the Psalm that morning I was scheduled to read, and there the words were again: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). All day long, that was the song I heard, louder than the sorrow, deeper than the grief, stronger than the pain: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
I found the worship song on my computer, and played it all throughout the day:
When my heart is overwhelmed, I will look to You alone
God my rock, God my rock, God my rock
You will stand when others fall
You are faithful through it all
God my rock, God my rock, God my rock
In the blessing, in the pain, through it all, You’ve never failed me
You are the strength of my heart, You are the strength of my heart
I can rely on You, I can rely on You
You are the joy of my life, You are my song in the night
There is no one as true
Jesus I trust in You
Benton Brown, God My Rock
And as I listened and pondered and grieved and prayed, the phrase, True Heart, kept running through my prayers. Because, here’s the thing, one day, my flesh and my heart will fail. They will. Inevitably. Either literally through a heart attack, or cancer, or death. Or emotionally through bad news, or a suffering spouse, or a suffering child. Kathe Baker’s, Shannon Bloodworth’s, and Robin Ince’s hearts have all failed them over the past few weeks and days. But I know each of them well enough to know what has kept their true hearts beating through it all: God has been the strength of their hearts and their portion forever.
Their hearts have ceased to become a muscle pumping blood through their chests and have become True Hearts. Hearts that despite the crushing sound of sorrow sing a deeper, truer tune: God, You are the strength of my heart, You are the strength of my heart, I can rely on You, There is no one as true, Jesus I trust in You.
I want a True Heart, too. Don’t you? I don’t know when tragic news is going to strike next. And while I don’t want to live in fear, I want to live in readiness, preparedness for the day when I, too, will need a True Heart. Because a True Heart isn’t born in the moment when sorrow strikes; it is born in the day in and day out decisions of obedience and trust and surrender in the days, weeks, months and years before sorrow strikes.
The next few weeks, I want to look at living examples of people who have True Hearts, people who faced sorrow to the tune of Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Because I want to learn from their example. I want to learn to run with the strength of a True Heart, with trust in a True God, no matter what the day holds.
So tune in for more on a True Heart, and in the meantime, pray for Kathe, Matt, Shannon, Robin, and Taylor. Pray that their hearts would continue to stay…True.