I had open heart surgery a few years ago to fix a leaky mitral valve that was damaged by a serious infection in my heart. I had already experienced a very small stroke and was in congestive heart failure when they discovered the root issue. I went in for a test to try and figure out why I was so sick and ended up being admitted to the hospital facing serious heart surgery. All this before I had ever turned 40.
I was warned that there was a very slight risk of complications that my surgery could end in a catastrophic stroke and or death. This really struck a nerve because my dad has a stroke in his early 40’s and it had really impacted me in a negative way. I was anxious that something could happen and that it would have a negative impact on my children.
I wrote each of my kids a letter, and I wrote this as a journal article for them to read as they grew older (I’ve edited it slightly to help it read better):
“Today I sit down to acquaint myself with all the things that could go wrong. To be honest, “wrong” on this is just my perspective. I really want to avoid hurt and pain, but they are at my doorstep knocking.They won’t let up until they enter my life like never before.
I write this now so you know my state of mind as I open the door.
There may be consequences for you that I never intended. Should things go “wrong,” it will be grief that comes knocking on your door.
Our scariest moments are the ones where we recognize we have no control. We either run to God or we run away from Him. We either call Him Evil, or we call Him Good. In those moments, there is no middle ground to practice a modified religion.
I didn’t choose this road. But it is the road that is set before me. In a thousand lifetimes I would not pick this pain. But I firmly believe that God has chosen me to endure it and so I will walk it, and you must know that I do not walk alone.
You must know that it is because of suffering that I cling to Him now, more than ever. I find that even in the darkness, and in the quiet, He remains true. So while this is not that path I would have chosen. It is the path that has led me closest to Him and for that I am grateful.
So I have to confess that when I ponder, “what might go ‘wrong’?” I say with confidence, that in some way, whatever happens, it will have also gone “right.” God is still in control.
It can be hard to imagine God is in control when we feel so out of control. I imagine the disciples were completely unnerved at the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps they thought all was lost. But three days later he rose from the dead! And the most tragic day in all of history became the greatest day in all of history. The resurrection changed everything. And this is where I place my hope that after whatever darkness may come we will experience the Light of God’s amazing grace.
This trial brought me closer to the Lord and that was a purpose greater than my own personal comfort could have ever been. I pray you press into the Lord no matter what comes your way. He has a way of taking the hardest circumstances and using them for his glory. It took me decades, but looking back and see how he used my dad’s stroke to work in my life. You may not see it or feel it now, but never lose the hope and true optimism that comes with trusting in the promises of God. – DAD”
I am grateful that my kids didn’t need to read that letter/journal entry. But I’m glad I wrote it for them. It helped me process some of my own feelings about my dad’s stroke (for the curious, he survived and I’ve written more about it elsewhere). I swore I’d never go into the ministry because of his stroke and the surrounding story, but as I look back, I’m probably in ministry because of it.
To this day we don’t know the cause of the infection in my heart. We probably won’t ever know. I’ve had to make peace that some things in life aren’t meant for us to understand on this side of eternity.