Unexpecting the Expected

If you’re my immediate family, or Facebook/blog friends with my wife, you already know, but for those who don’t…

I was born with a heart defect — aortic stenosis, an inefficiency of the aortic valve. The only sure treatment for this condition is surgery. I go to the cardiologist every six months for a check-up — EKG, echocardiogram, fussing out by the doctor about my weight, that sort of thing. This morning I went in just like I usually do, expecting the usual visit, only this time the doctor told me something that I always KNEW was coming but never really expected to come. That surgery that I’ve dodged for 43 years, I can dodge no longer.

Open heart surgery. Surgery. On my heart.

As far back as I can remember, my Mom fussed over me to take care of myself. I wasn’t allowed to do any competitive sports, or participate in strenuous activity. I was constantly reminded of the need to take care of myself, because one day, I’d have to have surgery, and I had it within my power determine how far off “one day” can be pushed. And just like anything else you’re constantly reminded of, my heart condition became a non-issue for me.

Sure, it was important. Sure, I was constantly aware of my mortality. Sure, I knew that between my birth defect and my falling out a three-story window at one and a half years old — an interesting story of its own — I’d been living on borrowed time my whole life. But just because you “know” doesn’t always mean that you KNOW.

That’s where I am now — the knowing. The honest-to-goodness knowing. The realization that I may not live forever.

Though the doctor has every confidence in the surgery, and though the surgery has a 95% success rate, and though I’ve got TONS of love and support hitting me from every angle, I can’t help but be nervous. No, I’m not afraid of death per se — hard to be afraid of something that’s been a constant possibility for you your whole life — but I AM afraid of being so vulnerable, of having no control of this. I realize that I never had that much control to begin with, but the illusion of control is a powerful thing. That illusion is gone now. In six months to a year’s time, I’ll be strapped to a table under anesthesia, with the very core of my being expose, and my life literally in the hands of another man.

And God. Especially God, the Lender of the time I’ve borrowed. I’ve always depended on God, even when I didn’t honor Him as my Savior and Lord, and I know that even in this, He’s the last word, the final say, the stamp of approval without which nothing happens. If I were to die on that operating table, or of a heart attack before getting there, or of a car accident between work and home in the morning, or fifty years AFTER this impending surgery, I can die knowing that my faith in Him is well-placed. He’s proven Himself more than capable of caring for me, even when I would assume He had better things to do.

What breaks my heart is the possibility of my kids not having their Daddy, or my wife not having her husband. I mean, I’m the guy that pays the bills (this surgery is gonna seriously cut into my paycheck), who makes sure the cars are running, who protects the family and plans for the worst. I’m a published author, with one book already on Amazon, one almost halfway done on my computer, and two more bouncing around in my head. I got responsibilities, and it kills me that I have to turn over control of those responsibilities, even if it’s for the shortest time. I’m the pessimist of the family, which to me means that I want to expect the worst, so that bad things don’t surprise me. I’d just as soon have all my surprises to be pleasant ones. So when I direct my pessimism toward… this…

I don’t want my surviving surgery to be a pleasant surprise. I don’t want my long life on the far side of surgery to be a pleasant surprise. I don’t want growing old with my wife and standing with my kids at their weddings and bouncing my grandkids on my knee to all be pleasant surprises. I want those things to be much more solid — not so much for my sake, but for my family’s sake. I want to be THERE for them — in truth, not only in spirit.

This, more than anything, is what bugs me about this surgery. I can’t be a pessimist about my surgery, because for their sake I don’t want to expect the worst. At the same time, I don’t want to expect the best, because that leaves us unprepared for the worst. I find myself in a very strange place, where I cannot have ANY expectations without either shortchanging my family’s future or my own nature or God’s sovereignty.

So I’m left with one expectation available to me — that in this, and in all things, the Lord will be glorified. Whether He brought this upon me, or whether He simply allowed it to happen, I know that He has a purpose for it. I see this surgery, and whatever comes after, as the raw materials by which He will build something marvelous. That doesn’t do anything for the butterflies in the stomach, of course.

Mark 9:23-24 — Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

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