Book review: Heartbeats of Grace

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Book Title: Heartbeats of Grace

Author: David Okai

Publisher: Ace Publishers, Accra, Ghana

Year: 2018

Book Overview

Grace is a confusing gift. It comes without warning and without merit.  There is no grand or mystical music or lights, just a realisation that the Divine is present. Miracles can be prayed for but Grace… that comes to anyone at the whim of the Almighty, to remind us that our earthly lives are not meaningless, but are meant to mirror or channel His glory, His power and His mercy.

For by Grace ye are saved through Faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God’.

To this day, I have barely grasped the significance and magnitude of God’s dramatic intervention in my life in June 2016. I initially believed that there must be a grand or as yet unrevealed reason or purpose, and so I kept thinking that I should also show my gratitude in a grand way. Because ostensibly, my personal transgressions and failures had been forgiven, or probably my purpose in life was as yet unfulfilled. Not so.

I reckon most of us will do the ‘what-if’ routine at least once in our lives. You know what I’m talking about, the what-if I won the lottery; what-if I was a Trump or Kardashian; what-if I was taller or stronger or louder; what-if I had said yes; and so on. There’s also the darker side to this routine like, what-if I could walk, or see, or hear; what-if the rains don’t come this year, what-if Hillary had won, etc. It’s obviously a question of perspectives, priorities and values.

My own questions from the context of this story were more like, what-if Nick had said no; what-if the UK had given me the visa; what-if I was married to someone else or still a bachelor; what–if Dawid had not come for the school reunion; what-if I sleep and don’t wake up; and so on. In fact I bet I could fill a whole page with font size (8) what-ifs. In Ghana we also use the ‘Had-I-known’ quip which is similar in many respects, except that it refers more to the past. Actually I believe this and the what-ifs are exercises in fruitless escapism, stress and guilt. But what do I know?

This is what I know, that there are no tomorrows. It’s smart to dream, to be prepared and to plan ahead, but all you really have is This moment. This Now. All else is vanity and hope. We all know this once we get past adolescence, but the value of the moment only hits us when we, or those close to us, are within Death’s grasp. We all see Surgeon-General’s warning, but that doesn’t stop us from buying the cigarettes. We have another popular slogan in Ghana which goes ’All die be die’. It rolls off the tongue nicely especially when testosterone levels are high, but is totally lost on the victims and spectators of calamity.

As for Man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone.and the place thereof shall know it no more.

Heartbeats of Grace is a story about my wife’s trials of faith and grit, my children’s trials of hope, and my family and friends’ trials of love. This is a story about the triumph of strong, true friendships and unselfish relationships. It is a story about overcoming insensitive bureaucracy, despair and other goliaths like hopelessness, helplessness and heartlessness. It is also a peon to thanksgiving and mercy, and an affirmation of the new Covenant of Christ.

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In this story, a great physician puts a 33-year sterling career on the line for someone he’s never met, risking sanction and possible suspension from the medical establishments in both his native and adopted homelands. Another great physician cuts short his business trip in India and races back home to Ghana to open the only currently operational Cath lab in town just in time to make the emergency intervention possible on a Sunday. A true friend suspends his own busy life for 48 hours in order to bring the two physicians together in Accra with barely enough time to save his old school mate’s life. A young wife and mother of three adorable kids doggedly fights a myopic health delivery system, refusing to let anyone tell her that she is a walking widow.

There are a great many come-backs and questions that arise from the story ahead, questions about certain people, certain institutions and certain systems. But this story is not about blame or finger-pointing or ranting. In fact I doubt I know the whole backstory with some of these issues I encountered, so can only hope that no one else will ever be subjected to my experience. I believe I’m as much to blame as anyone else. Perhaps I’ve been too complacent and too used to my comfort zone, an armchair analyst and too selfish of my own spirituality. I pray this story will make someone become a Dawid or Nick in some other person’s life, someone who has been told that there is nothing more anyone can do.

Pam and I don’t intend to wait for someone else to do something and so we have already registered a foundation called The HeartFelt Foundation (THF) that will actively assist and empower kids with treatable congenital or acquired heart diseases and their families to get first-class diagnosis and interventions, and post-op rehabilitation, particularly counselling which oddly seems lacking or overlooked in Ghana. Odd because it is incredibly critical not just for the victims but for their families as well. Lives and lifestyles will undergo a total re-organisation which could be traumatic, expensive, stressful and confusing for some.

THF will also use preventative education to help reduce the incidence of acquired heart diseases among children. I have discovered that, usually due to bad personal economic circumstances, many distressed families who find out that their child has a congenital or acquired heart condition that they cannot deal with, either choose to ignore it hoping it will go away, or sometimes decide to abandon the child somewhere, or worse. Yes as worse as you could imagine and maybe even more.

It may be a familiar story, one which I am just getting to know about, and it’s easy to feel helpless when you come face to face with the full magnitude of the problem. But it is heart-rending to know that some of these cases can easily be diagnosed and treated within thirty minutes in advanced economies, and that in some economies, care for such issues is a national health responsibility, including post-care and medication.

In Ghana, the reality is a hydra-headed, often partisan narrative involving disjointed policy and politics, misplaced priorities and people. After 60 plus years of independence we really shouldn’t be here, we shouldn’t be doing things this way by now. We talk about it all the time, particularly when a popular personality or ‘big man’ suffers a mishap and doesn’t have time to fly out for care, but are either unwilling or unable to transit into positive action.

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And let us not be weary in doing good: for in due season, we shall reap, if we faint not’.

Another favourite soundbite I’ve recently come across is ‘One day or day one, you decide.’ It sounds a bit implausible or pretentious, until you are holding the hand of a little child who doesn’t understand why she can’t breathe properly, or looking into the pained and confused eyes of a kid with a treatable condition, or holding your own spouse, sibling, parent or friend struggling for a breath of ‘free’ air. You could very well be holding a mirror and be looking at your reflection. One day or day one.

I hope this story will act as a living testimony to the strength of faith and prayer in times of despair, perseverance in the face of seeming impossibilities, and to help us all to identify the true and sincere relationships in our lives. You will be remembered more for what you did for others than what you did for yourself. So brighten your little corner of the world and thank God often. You never know when your time is over so be minded to perform your allotted task while it is still day. And do it your way but with compassion, it’s more fun!

I have always been happy being me. My friends can swear by my conduct and set their watches by my habits. Of course like other kids, I wanted to be a super-hero or Michael Jordan when I grew up but I never quite got that far. I grew up in a family of two other brothers and two sisters until my older brother passed away in a tragic motor accident. Being the kid in the middle can make you invisible in a fair-sized family. Also I had the option of choosing to be like my incredible older brother whom everyone wanted to be like, or to be like my amazing Dad. I decided to be me, warts and all. Sting’s words in his song ’Shape of my heart’ goes, ‘I’m not a man of too many faces, the mask I wear is one. I have no idea whether being me connotes looniness or perspicacity. Pam probably does.

I don’t have answers to the matters arising from HoG. Yet. Like Seal says, we’ll be ‘crossing that bridge with lessons I’ve learned’. I do know however that our own paradigm has shifted, and that we must prepare ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, for He has called me by name. THF may be simplistic but some things are better understood that way. We know we must plant this mustard seed in the knowledge that, though we may not be around to experience the benefits, we must nevertheless nurture the growth of this tree of Grace. It may last a year or ten. It may even become something else, who knows? Hopefully someone will remember later on that we tried. My question to you is, what are you going to do about it?

Copyright © David Okai 2018

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