Eight years ago I had open heart surgery.
There were so many scary things about it, but what I was most afraid of was the breathing tube. I was 18 and was just six weeks away from starting college where I would be studying vocal performance. Open heart surgery is obviously pretty invasive. But for me, the scariest part was the fact that a breathing tube would have to go in between my vocal folds to deliver life-saving oxygen during surgery. I was overcome by fear even thinking about the potential vocal damage; the potential that my dreams could be shattered in the blink of an eye. More than that even, the surgery could totally end any future of mine if it went wrong.
I struggled for five years.
Crushing chest pain, unrelenting exhaustion, constant hospital visits and not one of my doctors could figure out what was wrong. All we knew was that something was wrong with the sac around my heart (the pericardium), but, we didn’t know what or why. I was in a season of suffering. I was living in the fear that I could potentially lose my young life at any point while still working hard to maintain a somewhat normal high school experience. If I am completely honest, I felt abandoned by God.
After years of trying and failing to figure out what was wrong, one of my doctors suggested open heart surgery to remove my pericardium. So I graduated from high school and made the trek from my home in Oregon to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The only problem was that when we got there, nothing appeared to be wrong. Blood tests, CT scans, MRIs…nothing could pick up anything that appeared abnormal. My family and I decided to talk to the surgeon just to see what he thought about the situation. Having surgery would be a huge leap of faith because we couldn’t really prove that it was my pericardium that was causing problems, but I wanted his opinion nonetheless. It was in this appointment that I found out about the breathing tube. Suddenly, I was put into a panic. I was suffering, yes, but this could potentially cause even more suffering. This panic was only worsened by the fact that I was now considered a legal adult, and it was on me to make the life-changing decision of whether or not to have surgery.
I grew up in the church.
But I don’t think I knew what it really meant to surrender to Jesus until that moment. My feelings of panic, betrayal, and abandonment instantly turned into feelings of deep trust. I felt peace in the understanding that I couldn’t make the right decision, but God already knew what it was. I decided to open my Bible to the first page it fell on, and right there in my line of sight was Deuteronomy 31:6: “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord, your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Comforted and encouraged, I scheduled the appointment. Three weeks later, I had open-heart surgery with absolutely zero complications, despite the fact that the surgeon used a breathing tube meant for small children to help minimize the potential damage to my vocal folds. Six weeks later I started college, and two weeks later I used my unscathed vocal folds to sing on my first worship team.
During service at Grace this week, I was brought to tears as I reflected on God’s faithfulness through that season of fear. What specifically stuck out was when Pastor Dan gave the analogy of a bear whose paw is caught in a trap. If a bear is trapped it will be afraid and in pain and will not understand that its paw has to be pushed further into the trap in order to release it. God doesn’t like to see us suffer, but he uses suffering to bring us closer to him. Sometimes we need to be pushed a little deeper into the trap in order to be freed from our pain. God challenged me in my suffering by pushing me further, allowing the potential for future-altering surgical complications, to move me closer to him and his ultimate plan for my life. He not only saw me through this time, he provided for my future!
It turns out that my surgery was truly life-saving.
Scar tissue from my pericardium was moving into my lungs and causing complications. Having surgery allowed me to be able to breathe better, and therefore allow me to support my singing voice better. My deeper trust in the Lord also led me to opportunities where I could sing for His glory. I am now able and blessed to stand on the Grace Church platform and lead worship from a place of surrender because of what He did through my season of suffering.
It is hard to understand suffering in the midst of it, and sometimes it does not make it hurt any less or feel any less scary, but the Lord will never fail you nor abandon you.
He is good.