In February 2012, I stood to lead prayer meeting at the church in Louisiana I had pastored for 12 years, but the longer I stood the sicker I became. I had to leave during the prayer time and have my associate pastor take over. That was the first evidence that something had started to go wrong with me physically, and it would just grow worse from there. Soon I could no longer preach on Sunday morning without almost passing out during the service, and that May I went on medical leave until my doctor could come up with a diagnosis. After months of testing, they finally determined that I had what was then a rare & little-known diagnosis, but which has become more common over the last couple of years, called dysautonomia, or POTS: “Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.”
With POTS, the autonomic system malfunctions; things that are supposed to be regulated by that part of the brain misfire: for example one’s heart rate, which should adjust automatically when you stand, doesn’t. My heart rate might rise from 80 when I was sitting, to 140 or more when I stood. Essentially it was like running in place all the time when I stood, which is why I’d get so sick. It also causes severe fatigue, sleeplessness, nausea, and migraine headaches that were so bad I couldn’t read, or listen to anything.
There is no known “cure” for dysautonomia/POTS — still to this day. They just to try treat the symptoms with whatever medication seems to work best on the individual. But after months of trying different medications and treatments — some of which had side effects that were worse than the illness — nothing was helping, and it became increasingly evident that I was not going to get well any time soon. I knew I needed to step down, and let the church call a healthy pastor, who could minister to them like they needed. I was losing my job, my career, and my ministry. We had to sell our home, Cheryl’s dream house, along with about 2/3 of our possessions. I was so sick while we were moving that I couldn’t even stand to pack our belongings, and some our church members stepped over and around me on the floor as they packed my things. After 27 years of pastoring, I would now be out of the ministry. We moved to Norman, OK, where we had a small apartment, began to apply for disability, and try to convalesce without any human hope for a healthy future. As far as I knew then, my career and my life as I had known it, was over. Continue reading