I will never think of my birthday the same way again.
Tomorrow my love and I will host a family gathering to celebrate the April birthdays in our family. Bethany, Carmen, Dunovan and I all have birthdays within a four-day span from April 21-25.
It’s a lot of fun to get together with our Ottawa area family for the April birthdays. I am looking forward to seeing my children, their partners, and my grand-daughter Maddie. The weather is starting to turn warm and we can fire up the BBQ and enjoy each other’s company as we celebrate God’s good gift of life.
But this year, I’m also remembering a stormy spiral of events that began a year ago at this time. The same people were at our place to celebrate the April birthdays, and Carmen wasn’t feeling well. Little did she know that her small bowel had somehow become twisted and was beginning to die inside her. After a misdiagnosis in the emergency room of a local hospital, she ended up in emergency surgery three days later to save her life. A second surgery followed a few days later. As a result of these events, her life has been drastically changed. For our family, this time of year will now be forever marked as both a time to celebrate a birthday, and a time to remember an anniversary.
Carmen tells her story here – and it’s well worth reading. But since each of us remembers shared events through our own personal lens, I also want to tell this story as I lived it.
I experienced this time of intense testing from the perspective of a father and grandpa who desperately wants to see his children blessed. Although I myself was not the one in surgery, my own insides were also being ripped open, metaphorically speaking.
I have never prayed as much, or with as much intensity and singular focus, as I did during the few weeks following this crisis. When I got Joe’s call during a busy time at work, telling me that Carmen was in surgery, that her life was at stake, and asking me to pray, everything else receded into the background. I sought the Lord as I have never sought Him before. For most of the next several weeks, Carmen, Joe and Maddie were at the forefront of my thoughts and prayers.
Today, looking back, I am thankful for many things.
I am so thankful that Carmen’s life was spared. I am also thankful that she is doing so much better than the doctors had originally expected. I am thankful that Maddie Joy still has a Mom, that Joe still has a wife, that many people who treasure Carmen still have her in their lives.
I am also thankful that although Carmen’s life is full of new challenges, she is rising up as a woman of faith and courage. I am thankful that she is reaching out to others who have suffered similar traumas and is becoming a source of strength and encouragement for many.
I am thankful for the new depth and maturity that I see in my son Joe. He and Carmen have been through many tests in the past eighteen months, and Joe has been a rock of strength to Carmen and Maddie through it all. Carmen’s medical crisis came during a time when they were still adjusting to having a newborn and were under significant financial stress due to job loss. Yet today, one year later, they are together, Joe has completed a retraining program and is working in a trade, Carmen is alive and winning the daily battle for hope and courage, Maddie is thriving.
There is a reason why Joe and Carmen are doing so well in spite of so many challenges. The reason can be summed up in one word. God.
Yes, they have had the support of many (hundreds) of people, but at the end of the day, none of those people holds life and death in their hands. Only God does.
I recently re-read the Biblical account of Job’s life and sufferings. It re-opened the question for me of how people of faith respond to unexpected tragedy. Like Carmen, Job had no real answer or explanation for what was happening to him, but he clung to his stubborn conviction that his Redeemer was alive, and that in the end his faith would be vindicated. And it was.
As I was praying for Carmen and Joe last April and May during those first two critical weeks when her life was in the balance, I remember being so thankful that I serve a God who listens and responds when I pray. Over and over again, the Spirit gave me perspective and hope, and so I was able to continue standing before God as an intercessor on their behalf. So for me, this tragic series of events has only served to confirm and strengthen my hope in Him. I fully expect that Carmen’s life will bear fruit for eternity that would not have been possible without this horrendous test. Am I saying that God caused the test? No, it came from another source – but He did not prevent it, choosing instead to weave it into His good purpose for her life.
At my age, people sometimes ask (or hint) at the question of how I feel about approaching old age. My health is still very good, but I know that my life in this age will not last forever. But that’s not the sum total of my hope. I am convinced that God has made me for an eternal purpose, and that how I respond to the opportunities and challenges of this life will determine my eternal destiny in the Age to Come. I am looking forward to sharing in the glory of God, and I know that I have a choice in every situation. I can turn towards God, or I can turn away from Him.
When trouble comes, you can let yourself be defined by the trouble, you can decide to fight it on your own strength (always a losing proposition in the end, because your strength will one day run out), or you can turn to the One who holds life and death in his hands.
The way you turn makes all the difference in the world.