All posts by mikeziegwied

About mikeziegwied

Married since 1989 to the same awesome woman and blessed with two amazing daughters- and now with a second chance at life, I'm doing what I love- writing!

Created to Worship?

Are We Created To Worship?

A favorite team, a celebrity obsession, a TV show that we ‘must watch’, a ‘Great Cause’ we are passionate about:  what do these things have in common?  Do we not all have the desire to believe in something beyond ourselves and be willing to even make a fool of ourselves to show our passion for it?  In the USA, despite an ‘Old West’ mentality based on ‘rugged individualism,’ we still long to be part of a larger body: a group of like-minded individuals who function as a unit, united in a common bond, a brotherhood.  From support groups for cancer survivors or adult children of alcoholics, to a sporting team or music icon’s fan club- we all desire to be included and to be understood- to be part of something meaningful, something that transcends the mundane of everyday life.  We long to worship something beyond ourselves.

Fulfillment… Or not?

Is there not some sort of continuum on the fulfillment scale, where each ’cause’ can be measured as more or less fulfilling and satisfying?  Clearly, going to a sporting event and getting wasted with a group of friends has a less transcendent purpose than saving the whales or helping the poor; yet at their core, they are striving for the same elusive thing.  One looks for momentary pleasure and oblivion, the other looks out for other life forms or future generations, but both involve other like-minded people doing something meaningful together. Although you could conclude that saving the whales is a more productive, positive activity than partying with your friends, do either of these activities bring lasting fulfillment?  

It has been said that whatever we desire to give ourselves to is the thing that has the potential to be worshipped, be it a person, cause or religion; ultimately, many passionate causes decline as the sports team struggles or the musician stops innovating or the evidence piles up that the cause you were once giving up your life for in time and resources has fallen off its pedestal- for any number of reasons.

We become disillusioned, profoundly dissatisfied; life has lost some color, as the cold reality sinks in that what we once believed in has lost its luster. Our little god has fallen off his throne and apparently never deserved that place of prominence in our hearts.  Empty now, at loose ends trying to figure out what is worthy of our time and effort and energy: nothing perhaps?  Yet the questions lingers- why do we have this feeling of emptiness that nothing seems to satisfy? And suddenly it dawns on us that every culture believes in some sort of god- with a religious belief system to go along with it: could it be part of our make-up and hardwired into our DNA to worship!

Making Sense of Our Shared Humanity

The most helpful way I have found to understand our shared humanity is to view our identity as made up of three key components: mind, body, and soul.  Perhaps the third one is controversial to you, but if you think about it for a moment there seems to be something qualitatively different about us as human beings that differentiate us form other life forms on this earth.

So when we consider the possibility that the desire to worship is wired into the DNA of us human beings, we wonder how that developed: we look at the desire to create, the desire to follow moral principles, the desire to strive for improvement and achieve an ideal.  We have a burning desire to create: we make music, conceive art, build a house, engineer a car, start a family.  We have a strong conception of right and wrong: the concept of karma is found explicitly or implicitly in all world belief systems, with principles that are accepted universally.  We dream of an ideal world of beautiful perfection, a place where everyone has the highest motives and all seek the best for everyone else. We look around us and realize that in our finest moments, we are striving to improve as an individual, a family, a community, a nation, a world. 

https://mikeziegwied.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/41d5f-l-invitation-au-voyage.jpg

We seem to have a desire for the transcendent, to be part of something that raises us up to something beyond ourselves- greater than ourselves- and to deeply connect with others in a fulfilling relationship of shared understanding and mutual agreement seems to be a start.  Nearly anything can take on a cult like status in our minds- everything on the continuum from ‘The Cult of Mac’ and Steve Jobs of Apple Computer to Jim Jones’ cult in Guyana, where his devotees appear to have committed mass suicide as one final act of togetherness. But we are compelled to ask: To what end?  What are we humans trying to accomplish with our devotion?  And we see, sooner or later, that all these things are hollow: some are merely deceptive, while others are downright dangerous or even deadly, but ultimately none fulfill.  Yes, for that period of time when we were all together, of one mind, we loved it, but sooner or later it let us down somehow, and that feeling evaporated.  From Santa Claus to Superman, and from celebrity obsession to music idol worship- there’s nothing ultimately worthy of our adoration. 

So we keep seeking that elusive goal- to find something truly worthy of our worship.

courtesy of Fred Butson

Can I Improve My Soul?

So I can work on my body: eat right and work out and get in great shape; I can work on my mind: study and learn new topics and gain great knowledge; could it not also be true that I can work on my soul and ultimately find that thing that satisfies the longing, that fulfills our highest hopes and greatest dreams? What is it that satisfies the soul, that answers the question with a resounding YES there is something more to life than this?  Could it be that we are indeed created to be eternal? To have a hope, a faith in something limitless, powerful, perfect- that we are created to be in a deep and fulfilling relationship with our creator, as he calls us up out of our deep hole of ignorance, destruction or deception- lighting our way to a new hope, a lasting peace and ultimate joy!  

But first we must admit we can’t do it on our own…

Next: The Ultimate Higher Power

What Is This Stirring in Our Hearts?

If you’re like me, you’ve had times in your life when you’ve asked some hard questions- questions which had no easy answers and often brought even deeper questions into your mind.  If you’re like me, you weren’t satisfied with this state of affairs, so you began a quest to gain deeper insight and understanding into your purpose and the seemingly never-ending struggle involved in overcoming the many barriers encountered in your journey.  Finally, you may identify with me when I mention how many barriers to my progress were self-inflicted; yes, I was my own worst enemy and often didn’t even realize it!  The journey has been amazing, and continues to be so every day- although I continue to do battle with myself, I am hopeful that my story may give others some signposts for their own journey.  In that spirit, may you find my perspective beneficial in some small way.

Nostalgia

The sound of music, the way a painting draws our eyes to gaze upon it, the way we recognize a beautiful sunset, memories of times long past; these transcendent moments are full of feeling and awe, like an echo of something long forgotten, a poignant combination of pleasure and remembrance of something lost- of nostalgia, for… what?  Why do we have a word for this feeling?

 To Grandma's House We Go

As we grow older, many of us know that feeling of a memory suddenly evoked years later by the once familiar scent of cinnamon rolls rising on grandma’s old wood stove, or a certain song that reminds us of our first love.  How can we explain what is going on here in our minds- or is it our heart- our soul?

Empathy

Injustice, slavery, cruelty; these things call us to something greater than ourselves, to help those who are helpless or trapped and who have no way to ever repay us.  In our best moments, we have empathy; we put ourselves in their shoes and look for some way to lend a helping hand, to make a difference.  How do we explain this desire to make the world a better place?

https://i0.wp.com/media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/c2/f0/70/c2f0709ede46a4d40ce7f09ce0a3d373.jpg courtesy of Marin Hann

Passion

Have you ever realized that every known culture has deeply rooted rituals that both individually and collectively move the participants to great passion?  Appeasing their gods in sacrifice and prayer; showing their devotion by extreme, even painful behaviors; creating monuments in honor to their god:  Why do they have a need to have passion about something outside of themselves?  

Even in modern, so called secular societies, there are, nonetheless, very different shrines, where practitioners go to worship religiously, even zealously, as they pause their lives to focus on their needful rituals.  If distracted, or otherwise prevented from participating in these events, practitioners may become sad, depressed, or even angry.  Clearly, such things as shopping, sporting events, concerts and Hollywood serve a very powerful function in the lives of many, but for what purpose?  Why are celebrities put on pedestals and treated as idols?  Why do we have such a passion for shopping at our favorite boutique or for cheering our favorite team to victory?  Why are we so sad, even depressed if these things don’t go our way- when clearly none of these things are necessary for survival?

Nostalgia, empathy, passion– what do these things have in common?  Why are our hearts stirred, why are we moved so deeply?  When we get beyond ourselves, and move past selfishness, we connect with something unexplainable and powerful, and our desire to connect with others grows, our need to be part of something bigger increases, as if some great unmet need is finally beginning to be satisfied.  It seems that all our lives, to a greater or lesser degree, we are attempting to find a way to fill this great need.  As we grow older, we hopefully apply more wisdom to the process as we learn what doesn’t work, and realize, often through some crisis or another, that what we thought was important, actually is hollow and empty and ultimately worthless.

Next:  What Are We Created For?

Nocturnal Productivity

Night or Day?
Since childhood I’ve been a ‘night’ person. Although I grew up on a farm in a very rural area, It has never come easy for me to start my day at 5 or 6 am. I read with a flashlight under the covers as a child or listened to Mystery Theater on the radio and usually had trouble getting up in the morning for school. In the afternoons I was far more engaged and involved at school and preferred to study late at night. Although like most kids I was afraid of the dark- and believe me, rural darkness unpolluted by city lights is very dark indeed- I soon learned to embrace the nighttime world- to shut the flashlight off and let my eyes get used to the darkness; the peaceful beauty of the night lit only by the dim light of the moon would reveal a mysterious world. Late at night, when I went to check on the farm animals about to give birth, it became enjoyable to stroll up to the barns in the darkness and be enchanted by the unusual appearance of things so familiar in the light of day.

Taking 7am classes in college was not pleasant and I learned that it was much more productive to schedule my courses later in the day. Even after months of rising early every day, it only takes a matter of 2 or 3 days to return to my much more natural night hours. Conversely, when switching back to day hours, my body never seems to ‘click’ and I’m fighting the morning all the way. When cramming for an exam or finishing research projects- I could stay up all night and be fine the next day- often those mornings were some of the few occasions I was functioning at a high level so ‘early’ in the day. In many jobs or with my business I gravitated naturally to a ‘late’ schedule and preferred night shifts. Now don’t get me wrong- like anyone else, I love the morning: sunrise and first light, the dawning of a new day- it’s just that it’s best if that’s the last thing I do before slumberland!

For the 20 months prior to my health crises, I worked nights from 6pm to 6 am central time, and even through all my health problems and reacclimatizing to my new normal on many different levels, one of the things that has been most difficult to adjust to is sleeping at night! I often get tired around 4 am pacific- 6 am central- not conducive to leading a so called normal life with my family! Most people I know don’t want to talk and visit at 2 am but that’s when I’m really rolling- I’m energetic, creative, entertaining new ideas, focused, bringing elements together for my clients and writing.

Maximizing My Strengths
It really is incredible how much I get done between 10 PM and 3 AM! When I was keeping more traditional hours I got much less accomplished; I was distracted, unfocused, and my creativity well was dry. I was not at my best and no amount of vitamins or exercise seemed to help. With my current freelancing lifestyle, the time of day when I get things done matters little- apart from phone calls- I can research, email, blog, and design advertising late at night and it makes no difference!

Now that’s not to say that I’m strictly nocturnal; I take my life responsibilities seriously, which requires that I be flexible with my time; as such I have many commitments that require morning involvement. Ideally, I would prefer to be at my best- mentally sharp and thinking creatively- early in the day. Since this has not been the case, however, I make the most of it by staying up at night and getting much accomplished, instead of bemoaning the fact that my internal clock resists resetting.

Now a move to Australia might solve my problems with the clock… but being from the North, Christmas in the summer would take some getting used to!

Seeing Things In A New Light!

Surviving 3 life threatening illnesses in less than 2 weeks changed my life!

I had originally gone to North Dakota to get caught up on business bills and get ahead financially- a seemingly good decision given the limited prospects in North Idaho- and I did quite well financially while there, making at least 2 -3 times more than I would have had I stayed home, yet less than 2 years later I was looking at life far differently- my whole world had been rocked!

I began reevaluating everything- my marriage, my fatherhood, my spirituality. As you might imagine, I had a lot of time to think as I began the journey back to health. Initially, i was so depleted that I slept 12 or more hours a day, and was so weak I needed help navigating the stairs in my house and deck. I think my family and friends were more traumatized by my near death experiences as I lay unaware in a coma or foggy from all the medications I was suddenly taking, but it was strange to consider that my heart had stopped twice and I had been brought back to life! The EKG report supports the fact that the left ventricle of my heart was unable to maintain a normal rhythm and was causing blood supply to be caught off to my body and brain during 2 episodes lasting 2 and a half minutes. Had I experienced this at home or at the remote work location in North Dakota, I clearly would have died or been badly damaged. As it was, it appeared minimal permanent damage had been sustained, although the extent of damage and it’s permanency remained to be seen.

So why was I literally given a second chance? Within a 12 day window, three different illnesses threatened to claim my life, yet ultimately they all receded into the background as my body came back from the dead and began the road to recovery. And with this second chance, a tremendous challenge arose- what do I do with this new lease on life? To me, at the time, I wondered whether my heart would recover to the point of ‘normal’ or if I would be in a weakened state for the rest of my life, managing my condition, taking multiple medications so my heart would not be overworked and so on.
Why was I allowed to have the heart attacks at the ER, already hooked up to the EKG, showing for posterity, proof that my heart stopped functioning, with the top line, showing the heartbeat, flatlined?!
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While in my induced coma, a dear mentor in my life had stood over me with his wife by his side as I lay in intensive care, not knowing if I would recover- and if I did, wondering what condition my mind and body would be in after all the trauma. They prayed that my mind would be spared as he felt it was my strongest gift, as I am not gifted in such things as mechanical ability or the so called traditional male dominated fields. Early on, while still in the ICU, although mentally foggy at times, my mind seemed surprisingly strong, as I maintained my sense of humor with the nursing and support staff and enjoyed my many visitors.

Returning home in my weakened condition was a new experience. Although I was periodically able to visit for a few days every few months, I had not been home on an extended basis for nearly 2 years! After being gone from home for so long, it was like getting to know my wife and daughters again- they had grown and changed so much- and my wife had been by my side through the worst of my heart attack and stay in ICU, being a true helpmate while I was very nearly an invalid. She was perhaps the one most affected by all this, wondering how we were going to continue to pay on our business debt while new medical debt was accruing and no income was forthcoming. As the one who diligently paid the bills and planned how the money was to be applied- whether in our transportation service or in prioritizing business debts to be repaid while I labored in North Dakota, she came to realize that in comparison to death of a spouse, a good credit rating means relatively very little!

I absolutely loved the time I got to spend with my two incredible daughters, now older and maturing into wonderful young ladies! Being able to be a part of their lives in a richer and more meaningful way than even before I left for North Dakota, each of us profoundly aware of just how close it had been to my family becoming a widow with two daughters without a father. It was awesome to be present in their lives, much more aware of my influence in the development of their thinking and choices, desiring to speak in a deeper way of truth and love into their hearts. My wife and I had been growing distant during the business failure and my subsequent North Dakota stay, so there was much to work on and repair- my health issues created an unmistakeable opportunity for us to focus on the relationship once more, rather than on the chaff of life that seems so often to crowd out the truly meaningful and powerful things- relationships, living for something greater than yourself, and serving others.

Our amazing church- a real ‘hands and feet of God’ church stepped up and helped us in so many tangible and spiritual ways. Family, friends and the body of Christ came beside us and provided wonderful home cooked dinners and home canned goods, and showed us God’s love in action. Where for many years with the transportation service, I was the one giving help, now it was time to receive help and what an incredible blessing it has been for my entire family. God has been beside me all along and had to get my attention in a serious way to get me to see that he has a different path than the one I was on. Not that I was on a ‘bad’ path, but it was time for the close of one chapter and the beginning of a new one- whether I was ready for it or not!

Next: How to make the most of my ‘new’ life-

Heartburn or Heart Attack?

Signs and Symptoms
Believe it or not, if you know what bad heartburn feels like, then you know what my heart attack felt like. I have quite a sensitive stomach, so I’m used to the lovely feeling of heartburn, but this was worse than normal because I wasn’t able to get it under control with normal remedies. Still very weak from 22 days in the hospital, as well as nauseous, I asked my wife to drive me to our little local hospital ER. I was sweating profusely due to the nausea and pain. As they were hooking me up to the rhythm strip, I mentioned I was having the worst heartburn ever and promptly vomited; I then mentioned that I felt like I was going to pass out…

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Have you ever seen an Rhythm Strip report with a flatline (no heartbeat) for 2 minutes? That’s as near to death as can be- and that was my my report- with a second flatline 20 minutes later lasting 30 seconds- and then my body began to posture and clench showing that oxygen deprivation had occurred in my brain. When the helicopter arrived, I was flown to a larger medical center that would try to stabilize my condition and repair my heart.

Restart My Heart
Restart My Heart

I was in an induced coma for 3 days while a pump was beating for my damaged heart. My family was told that if my heart did not stabilize I would be put on a cardiac transplant list and could also possibly be brain damaged due to oxygen deprivation to the brain during the flatline episodes.
______________________
Slowly I became aware I was in a hospital room (again!) and being disoriented, asked the nurse if she was real! I learned that I had flatlined twice due to a blood clot blockage in the left ventricle which controls blood flow to the body and the brain (thus the ominous name “the widow maker”), and that the valve had been fibrillating and would not stabilize. My ejection fraction had showed 29% while normal is 65-70%- not good at all- known as congestive heart failure! There was also good news: my cardiologists had installed a stent in the left ventricle, and were able to reduce the blockage from 80-100% all the way to zero, but time would tell if my heart would be able to beat normally once more!

I learned that people all over the country were praying for me – as requests had been sent out on church and Facebook prayer chains; when my heart began to pump effectively on its own, I was slowly brought out of the induced coma, meanwhile everyone was hoping I would not be brain damaged. All I can say is if my brain was damaged, it wasn’t in a part of the brain that I use! Miraculous either way!

When my ejection fraction was checked again a few days later, it miraculously had returned to the normal range of 65-70%, but as I had developed various severe infections, I remained hospitalized for 13 days. Between North Dakota and Idaho, I was hospitalized for a total of 22 days out of 25 days! In actuality, my heart attack was far more traumatic for my friends and family than for me, because I was clueless during the worst of it, blissfully in a coma while they were anxiously waiting to see if I would live or die!

When released, I was extremely weak and had severe muscle atrophy. My kidney stones and stent had not yet been dealt with and I was using a cane for stability and support. I could not go up or down stairs unassisted and had no stamina. I was not allowed to begin cardiac rehabilitation therapy for a few weeks to allow my heart to take a break. I came home with 7 new cardiac medications and slept for 16 or more hours per day.

When I was awake though, I began to think about my life in a new way. I knew God and believed in his son Jesus for my salvation from my arrogance and selfishness and had helped as many people as I could, but with this new lease on life I began to ask a new deeper question: How do I make the most of this second chance?

With so much of my future up in the air regarding career, my physical condition, and how I could most put a smile on God’s face, I knew that a new direction in my life was already beginning.

Next: Risk!

Maximizing Life-Changing Events

I recently had a heart attack and it got me thinking… about life in general, my life in particular, and what I was going to do with this second chance I had been given.

I had not been wasting my life per se, but recently some questions had been cropping up in my head, what with my wife and kids in Idaho, 800 miles away, while I was living out a life of quiet desperation, I suspect like many of us, making great money in the North Dakota oil boom, but wondering what had happened to the hopes and dreams of my youth. Does anyone’s life turn out like they planned? Have my priorities gone askew? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with the rest of my life?

When our family business failed after 10 wonderfully busy years developing a rural transportation service, I suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of making a bunch of changes I wasn’t ready to make. I had dreamed of retiring from the transportation service in some 20 years and was at a loss of where to go from here- surprising how a decade of doing something you enjoy can do that to you.

The economy had recently tanked, but that had not made it any worse to find a good job in, or near, our rural community, which has traditionally struggled to move beyond forestry and logging- so after a summer of minimal opportunity, I made the mental leap to offer my skills and experience to the oil boom in western North Dakota- where hundreds of men in my small community had already gone, seeking a golden opportunity to make a pile of cash in the new oil patch- even if it was a 12 hour drive away from loved ones.

The summer landscape of ND is a bleak treeless expanse, broken by occasional gullies with a few scraggly trees eking out an existence within that low-lying washout, adding yet more desolation to the otherwise blank skyline. The recent addition of oil jacks dot the landscape, lighting the night sky with an eerie glow from the gas flaring off, further increasing the feeling of isolation. Then the North Dakota winter arrives- as early as October and often overstaying its ‘welcome’ until April- with 40 mph north winds creating whiteout blizzards driving the snow sideways for hundreds of miles with no landscape features to lessen the effects of the storm- save for the occasional building with a mountainous snow drift collected on the leeward side. And the 60 below windchill- indescribable unless you’ve been there- cutting into your skin like a knife!

Did I mention that I’m from the Pacific Northwest?

North Dakota is a far cry from the 4 seasons of the eastern Washington of my childhood and northern Idaho where my home currently is: mountains in all directions, full of evergreen trees and elk, moose and bear; rivers, lakes and countless streams full of fish and fun. The winters are glorious- with crisp beautiful days for skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling. There are a myriad of outdoor activities for every season- winter, spring, summer and fall!

The barren landscape of western North Dakota notwithstanding, the average workweek for me in the oil patch was an amazing 84 hours- and for as many as 7 weeks in a row- 12 hours each day: not much time to do anything but eat and sleep! The money was obviously great, but home life not so much, since my family was 800 miles away and I was choosing to sleep in my minivan to avoid paying $1000 or more per month for little more than a bunk; I was grateful to eventually get on with a company which provided discounted mancamp housing- a very good thing since winter was on its way.

Following one 49 day stint without a break, I was eager to make a trip home, but my engine blew driving through an Indian reservation in eastern Montana; I was glad to catch the Amtrak at the next town and make it home- only to head back on the train to the oil patch a scant five days later. On my first shift back I felt pain in my left side and suspected an old nemesis- kidney stones- and began to feel my body declining as I tried to deal with the issue without going to the ER. I missed a shift for the first time and felt worse each day, but driving 40 miles to the nearest town after working 12 hours was just too much trouble, so I thought I’d just suck it up and deal with it. A few days later brought kidney pain like I’d never before experienced- and as I lay on the office floor waiting for the pain to subside, I wondered how I was going to get myself to the ER at the end of my shift.

My body made the decision easy- I began to shake so violently that the truckers hauling saltwater to our disposal facility were alarmed and my coworkers called for an ambulance. Nine days later I was finally released from the hospital in Bismarck diagnosed with pyelonephritis and bilateral pneumonia, with a stent installed in my infected kidney until the infection subsided enough to blast the stones after I returned to Idaho. My white blood cell count had been over 25,000 so there was concern regarding my body’s immune system. My mom, along with my wife and kids, had made the long drive to support me during my health crisis and I was grateful to be nothing more than a weak and tired passenger for the 800 mile trip home. I looked forward to following the doctor’s advice to go home and begin the recuperation process from my dual life threatening illnesses.

It was nice to be home recuperating- arriving home just in time for my 48th birthday and the 4th of July, never suspecting that less than 3 days after arriving home I would experience the “widow maker” heart attack and live to tell the tale!

Next: Midlife crisis?