The other day I was listening to a favorite gospel song while out on a run. I learned it back in my college gospel choir and have always loved the simple lyrics reminding me to not be afraid in the face of fear and trials …
For there’s a friend named Jesus, who will wipe your tears away.
And if your heart is broken, just lift your hands and say.
I know that I can make it. I know that I can stand.
No matter what may come my way, my life is in your hands.
– Kirk Franklin x Maverick City Music, My Life is in Your Hands – 1997
I love how praise music reminds me of the Biblical truth that my life is in His hands. I know lyrics referencing “my life” mean my circumstances or future and “broken heart” refers to grief and loss. And I have always trusted God with both my life and heart. But now the words felt literal. Tears fell fast and furious, causing me to stop in my tracks. Because I had to be honest and quietly ask myself, “Do you really believe your life is in His hands? Do you trust him with your actual broken heart?”
I have always known my life will end at some vague point the future. But my life expectancy just had a major asterisk placed above it by a diagnosis I never saw coming. It is described as life threatening in all the literature and information on the topic. And knowing that in worst case scenario I’d be dead within hours makes me feel like a ticking time bomb. Also, there is no clear reason why I have it.
I am a runner. I eat all the veggies. I don’t smoke. I have no medical conditions. I rarely even go to the doctor. But I recently experienced a dramatic syncopal event that prompted additional cardiac testing, “just to be safe.” It led to the finding of an unsafe flaw. A decent sized aneurysm on the ascending aorta of an otherwise perfectly healthy forty-something woman.
Even as a medical provider, I didn’t grasp the significance at first. When the sonographer explained that my aorta measured large and the cardiologist now wanted a formal echocardiogram, I wasn’t worried. I shrugged and said, “Ok but it’s just a little bit bigger, right?” My mind was already on all the things I had to do that day and I wanted her to get on with it. Her eyes flashed with compassion as she soberly informed me, “No. It is significantly enlarged. You need to be seen urgently by cardiology. And you will be in the care of cardiology for the rest of your life.”
The rest of my life. That suddenly feels like a long time. Or at least it should be. For someone who just a week prior fussed over the onslaught of grey hair and the cost of anti-wrinkle face cream, I am suddenly aware of how young I really am. I am aware of how much I want to live. I desperately want to be here for my kids and my husband and love them well into my old age.
And not just that, as I started learning what I can and can’t do, I was slammed with a sense of loss at the freedom to just live my normal life. I don’t want to be handed lists of what I no longer should do. I don’t want to watch my blood pressure or be careful or wonder if certain activities or travel are safe. I don’t want to walk around worried about whether one false move will make this thing rupture. It makes me feel like I have to live like I am 80 in order to see age 80.
Confession: If I am being completely honest, I don’t mind the part about no longer being able to ride amusement park rides because it will shut my kids up about it now once and for all. Just sayin’
Everyone asks me, “So what happens now?” And my answer is that it’s too soon to really know. Aneurisms are dangerous, but so is open heart surgery. The guidelines are to monitor the rate of growth via serial imaging, then “watch and wait” until the risk of rupture exceeds the risk of surgical repair. I am already close to that threshold and I can’t decide how I feel about that. I wish it were smaller. I wish I were older. I wish I knew why and for how long I’ve had this. I wish I knew what comes next.
My medical training brings me some reassurance in knowing modern medicine is amazing, aneurysms can remain stable and open heart surgeries are more successful today than they’ve ever been. But my medical training also brings a sobering reality in knowing that if this thing ruptures, over 80 percent of people die before they make it to the operating room. Also, people still die or have serious complications from heart surgery. I have to live with all this ambiguity. It is a lot to process. Both for me and for my family.
Believe me, I know all the trite sayings like, “We all will die at some point. All any of us have is today.” But those words fall hard on the heart of someone facing a life threatening issue. So I’m going to gently ask folks to stop saying it.
I also know that even if I knew all the answers, it wouldn’t soften the blow. Jesus knew how and when his life would end. He knew why. He knew He would be with the Father. He knew all the answers to every question anyone could ever ask about the end of their life. He still cried. And so have I. Buckets of tears. Because Jesus showed us that tears don’t mean you don’t trust. Tears mean you are human.
And I am grateful in so many ways. Grateful this was caught so we can watch it. Grateful for the amazing care I have received by my medical colleagues. Grateful for the encouraging words and prayers of friends and family. Grateful I can still run. Grateful for my sweet husband and children who already have heaped love on me and made me laugh and laugh despite the tears. (I am not grateful for how they called shenanigans when I said that cleaning their rooms and emptying the dishwasher were very good for my heart. You can’t blame a mom for trying.) Ultimately, I am grateful for a God who sees me and has already been proven faithful in so many ways.
Right now I have so many questions. So much on my heart. So much uncertainty. But this much I do know. My life is in His hands.
“O Lord, I give my life to you. I trust in you, my God!” – Psalm 25:1-2a