Give Thanks?

Yesterday I completed the last required procedure for my surgery preparation, commonly known as “pre-op.” I had to undergo other related tests earlier this week, such as blood work, a chest X-ray and an EKG, but today involved going to Arlington Hospital to complete an interview with a nurse, followed by a final blood test to confirm my blood type, should the need for a transfusion arise. I was a bit caught off guard when the nurse asked me, “Who might be your power of attorney to make decisions on your behalf if you do not have the desired outcome?” “Do you mean if I die?” I responded. “No, I am speaking about such things as being stuck in a coma or brain dead and allowing machines to keep you alive. You will need to read this form and decide what you would like done if this happens and who would you like to leave in charge?” She placed the form in my hand, while I was still sitting in my chair processing this new information. Apparently this form is standard procedure for serious brain and heart surgeries. “Take this home, make some decisions and then we can notarize it when you return Tuesday morning.” She said this before asking me for my right hand, taking it and fastening an official red “PRE-OP” bracelet on my wrist. My surreal past week and a half was becoming more real by the minute, with my fancy new plastic red bracelet here to serve as my constant reminder. “We will see you Tuesday 3 hours before surgery,” she offered as our departing reminder, before Sandra and I headed to the car to discuss our sobering hospital visit.

What a week! We sat in the car and considered all that we have faced in the past weeks. One piece of information that we had only shared with a few close friends and family members has also played a significant part of our present emotional weight. About the same time we heard of my possible aneurysm, we were also told the exciting news that we are expecting a baby. Can you believe it? To try and explain the rise of emotions is not easy. On the one hand you have the excitement of new life, while on the other hand you are aware of the threat of losing life. It felt like we were walking on a balance beam in which the emotions were causing us to sway to the right and then back to the left, depending on which emotion gripped us in the moment. The thought of new life and another family member gave us a renewed sense of hope. Just as this hope began to take shape within us, Sandra began bleeding. We shared the news with a few more people to engage more friends in prayer along with us, asking God to keep the baby healthy and growing as we prepared for my pending surgery. This past Monday (April 8 – one week after my doctor had called to tell me the news that I had an aneurysm that would require surgery ASAP), I was back to the doctor”s office undergoing an EKG. I was lying down with electrodes taped to my chest (and why did they have to shave off random patches of hair?), anxiously waiting for Sandra”s call with the results of her blood test from earlier that morning. At exactly 3PM she called me and I told the nurse that I would have to take the call regardless of the test. I knew the answer as soon as I heard my wife’s quivering voice as she sobbed. “There is nothing there anymore. Gone. I have miscarried and lost the life that was inside of me!” What do you say in that moment? Nothing I could say but the simple truth, “I love you and I am so, so sorry.” We were broken.

One unfortunate technique that I had used to encourage my wife with (knowing that it was not theologically sound, but using it anyway), was that every time she would worry about the possibility of something happening to me in the upcoming surgery, I would respond, “Why would God let anything happen to the father of our new baby – come on, He wants us both around, right?” Well, that sort of logic and bad theology will return to bite you in the backside if the thing you base it on falls through, as it did in our case. Words are not adequate to explain the low that we both experienced this past Monday evening, while we were both raw with emotion. I am thankful for my two children who live with us (our older two are presently out of town), and who demonstrated understanding and compassion to Sandra and to me, and grieved along with us. I am also grateful for my mother-in-law Lily, who showed up and stayed the night. It was clear that homework was not getting done and dinner was not being cooked, as we were both paralyzed by the volcano of emotions. Lily stepped in and saved the day: making dinner, working on homework and crying by our bedside (What an amazing woman and example of love). Going to bed that night I was wondering how we would move forward. Keep in mind, the doctor”s words of warning to me the previous week, “You have a ticking time bomb in your head, so whatever you do, try not to get stressed out – just relax.” When I laid my head on the pillow Monday night I thought, “This thing is definitely going to blow – better while I am sleeping!” A difficult thought to think when you are trying to get some rest and you are emotionally spent.

Last chapters are the ones that tend to wrap up the plots that great authors do such a wonderful job weaving together: suspense, characters, mystery and tension, as they mount in such a way that the readers wonder, “How on earth will this thing play out?” It felt like that on Tuesday morning, when I left Sandra in bed and drove to Loudoun Hospital for a chest X-ray (more pre-op work). I spoke with a close friend of ours by the name of Mary, who was aware of the miscarriage and she asked, “Would it be alright if I go by to see Sandra this morning?” Still raw with emotion I said, “Go for it, I am just praying that we can hang in there with everything that we still have to face.” Apparently they had a meaningful time together, because when I returned home Sandra had ventured out of our room and was sitting on the back patio in the sun. We sat together and at one point she turned to me and said, “I believe that I can honestly feel the impact of people praying for us, like part of the heaviness is beginning to lift.” We are moving forward inch by inch and trying to do our best to put our trust in the One who can make sense of even the darkest of moments – the Author of life.

On Tuesday evening we had dinner as a family, together at the kitchen table. To my surprise as we were finishing up the meal, Sandra looked up at me and our kids and said, “Let”s do a Gratitude Circle and go around the table, so each of us can share three things that we are thankful for.” (We do this now and then, as a dinner exercise and it can be very uplifting.) What surprised me was that there we were, about 24 hours after the news of the miscarriage and my unbelievable wife was attempting to focus on what we have to give thanks for. I know that the Bible encourages us to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18), I have just never seen it lived out in the midst of such a raw life storm. I thought to myself about how truly blessed I am to be married to Sandra. I was also extremely encouraged by some of the things that I heard the kids offer thanks for in the middle of a very tense environment. Let me just add, when we do a gratitude circles at dinner, they are not always profound or heartfelt, but on this night, full of emotion, our family rose to the occasion. Our daughter Hailey bragged on her Grandma Lily, “I am thankful that grandma is always here to help when we need her.” Our son Connor added that he couldn’t help but notice how positive Sandra was and that she didn’t stay down for very long… He then led us in clapping and cheering for her. Hailey agreed, since this was such a contrast to previous day, when we were dealing with the first shock wave. They had seen her tears and our response to this painful loss, and commented on the fact that God was lifting her spirits and supplying supernatural strength that only comes from Him.

Connor then proceeded to catch me off guard when completing our third lap in the gratitude circle he said, “I am thankful for the grace that we have in this family.” He went on to say, “Even though we make some serious mistakes, this is a very forgiving family and that”s something I am thankful for.” Wow – I would not have thought of that. I was so encouraged by his response and it served as a reminder to me of the power of grace. The fact that God has granted me such an amazing wife and four incredible children, is an example of His grace to me and I am seriously grateful! That same grace has been evident in the many friends and family who have offered prayers, words of encouragement and acts of compassion to our family this week. Thank you for standing with us in prayer. We are praying for another miracle of grace this Tuesday at Arlington Hospital, from the One who gives it so freely.

Side Note: Many have graciously expressed an interest in coming to Arlington Hospital this Tuesday to join the family in prayer. However, after doing our pre-op walk through, we realized how small the waiting room is. Due to size, we would ask that people unite with us in prayer during the surgery this Tuesday at 1PM (EST). We plan to offer real-time updates, since one friend offered to Tweet them directly to our ministry website. (See “Twitter Feed” on left hand side of our homepage).