Some day, in all likelihood, I will need a heart surgeon.
I will shed my thin, open-backed blue and white hospital gown. The nurses will attempt to scrub my skin free of all possible bacteria in preparation for a major surgery. My kids will likely be grown, and will come to say their secret goodbyes. They will try to smile confidently; tell me I’m strong and brave. As I’m rolled out of the room, they will vow to greet me on the other side of surgery. But I can see it in their eyes. They are actually absorbing every last second, realizing that it may be the last time they look deep into my living eyes and hear my voice.
Heart disease runs rampant in my family. My grandfather has had two open-heart surgeries. My parents are both on cholesterol medication, and I’ve had borderline high cholesterol my entire life. My extreme exercise and healthy eating for two decades is barely holding up the fight against my genetics. I made a choice when I was young to battle heart disease with everything within me. But when the day comes, I will have to lay myself on that operating table and trust the experts to save me. My life-long fight will be over. There will be absolutely nothing left for me to do in order to save myself, except to surrender to the surgeon’s well-trained hands.
As I write this, I am flying back from our Eurasia Regional Retreat in Budapest. Once every three years, all of our region’s workers gather for a conference. I was excited for Nick to be able to reconnect with friends. The special camp they organized for our kids – all American children who are growing up overseas- is invaluable. But, I really didn’t want to go.
A few of our favorite colleagues- Heroes' Square, Budapest- Hungary}
The reason is quite simple: I am an introvert. Meeting a lot of new people every day is not my personal idea of a “retreat,” and I stink at small talk. I’ve learned the tactics of deep eye contact, smiling, nodding my head and asking questions to make people feel comfortable. But still, at the end of the day, I just long to go to my hotel room, sit in an oversized chair next to a window, think, and have deep conversation with a close friend. And since this is our 13
year in the organization, I thought it would be difficult to hear, learn or be inspired by some thing I had not heard before.
I was wrong.
Our Regional Director Omar Beiler, stood before a hotel ballroom filled with fake crystal chandeliers and 300 workers, and shared about the emergency open-heart surgery he recently faced due to a valve that had deteriorated.
Omar and Pat Beiler are not merely my family’s bosses in a large organization. They were our original welcome party- the ones that stood waiting for us in a dirty, dark Armenian airport years ago when we landed for the very first time. Amidst the broken baggage claim belt filled with workers manually pushing luggage along; the sea of black leather coats and pointy dress shoes; gangs of chain smokers begging you to ride in their taxis, there emerged a smiling Omar and Pat.
They not only showed us how to live the first few weeks in Armenia, but their love, wisdom, encouragement and plain simple belief in us, as a couple, have kept us going in this life, away from our homeland and family, for over a decade.
Omar stood on the Budapest stage, with his familiar white hair and thick-rimmed glasses. Unexpectedly, he didn’t try to impress us with an intellectual discourse or organizational strategy.
“When I was waiting in the hospital, waiting for this surgery. I felt God inwardly speak to me. He said, ‘I’m not just going to repair your physical heart, I want to do a work in your spiritual heart too.’
“I replied, ‘That’s great, God. But I don’t know what I need to do for that to happen.’
“And God’s reply was simple, ‘Right now, you HAVE to trust this well-educated heart surgeon to do what he does best, and repair your physical heart. There is absolutely nothing YOU can do except lay down on that gurney and allow him to do the work he was meant to do. Just as you trust him, trust me. I am the surgeon of your spiritual heart.’”
Despite my counselor’s best efforts, I don’t keep a journal to process my thoughts. Instead, I keep this blog. I have chosen (sometimes against my husband’s fear that I am too honest) to process life in a public forum. I am very tired of pretending to be perfect. And I want others out there, the other misfits of imperfection, to know they most certainly are not alone. And, if you read this blog, it is no secret that the last two years of my life have not been the pinnacle shining glory of my personal journey.
Instead, I’ve been forced to stand face to face with all of my known and hidden weaknesses. One by one they come, very worthy and strong opponents. They taunt me in the boxing ring. The bell rings, and I try my best to fight, to defeat them, and at times, to just stay standing; to not go down for the losing count. And I recently realized that I am just plain exhausted from the fight.
When Omar shared those simple words, I knew I had gotten it all wrong.
God knows I’ve fought hard. I’m bruised. I’ve had concussions, but I have not fallen. But I feel as if there is absolutely nothing more that I can do. It is time for me to surrender myself to the great surgeon of the inner soul, and let his expert hands gracefully do their work.
Every morning, since Omar stood on that stage in Budapest, I roll over while attempting to rub the sleepy sand out of my eyes. Then, in my typical dramatic fashion, I do something to remind myself of Omar’s words. I allow my body weight to sink deep into my memory foam mattress and imagine myself helpless, arms relaxed by my side on the gurney, ready for surgery. And instead of fighting, kicking and screaming into the operating room, I allow myself to release guilt and feel my sickness- the painful thoughts and feelings that have accumulated and clogged my heart over the past few years. And then I inwardly whisper these words.
“I am open, God. Do surgery on my inner heart.”
There is a sense of dread as I do this. Surgery is never easy. It is painful. Under the surgeon’s scalpel, we lose parts of ourselves that we cannot imagine life without. When the work in the operating room is finally done, we wake up with an inner pain. We have weeks of learning how to move, walk, and be independent again. We get frustrated when we fall while doing simple tasks. We are humbled when we are forced to grab a loved one’s hand just to take a few steps.
But, we wait. We heal. We recover. We push the limits of our weakness. And most of all, we can finally hope and see a better future ahead.
When I was a little girl, my grandparents would come from New York every Christmas to visit our Missouri home. A hotel with a swimming pool was always their grandparent vacation necessity. As we would come daily to play in the water, I would stare at the long, white, smooth scar dividing my grandpa Roger’s chest in half. Even at a young age, I recognized the bravery he must have had, and the pain he must have endured, in order to have a new lease on a life.
I go under the knife with a hope – the same hope my grandfather had. I will survive. I will have a stronger heart. I will be able to share my scar and story to inspire others on the same journey. And I, too, will have a new lease on life.
I think that whenever we submit to such a risky surgery, we fear that we will never be the same again. Can a body that has been cut open and a heart that has been taken out, repaired and covered with scar tissue ever compare to the heart of our youth?
Will this heart ever allow me run again, push it to its limits and pound with all of its might? Will it ever truly be able to love deeply again, forgive, laugh, and regain the innocence it had when it was young?
I asked those same questions. I don’t want to go through a terrible surgery and recovery to be living on a perpetually wounded, weak heart.
And I immediately knew the answer. After my Grandpa Roger’s heart attack at an early age, he was considered by some to be frail. He couldn’t find a new job as a chemical engineer because he was considered too great of a health risk for insurance. When my grandparents applied to adopt a child, in order to fulfill their dream of having a large family, they were denied. The adoption agency was sure my grandpa would soon leave my grandmother a widow and alone with a young family.
This past New Year’s Eve, I sat at a restaurant table in America and celebrated the holiday with my 95 year old Grandpa Roger by my side. This week he attended the memorial service for his final living neighbor and friend. This man, with a heart that has been torn apart and reconstructed twice, has outlived everyone who always had hearts of perfection.
I can learn from him. He not only allowed the surgeons to clean his heart, he followed their advice. He started exercising several times a week. He completely changed his eating habits. And even at the age of 95, he can still be seen riding in his hospital’s van to attend the special exercise room monitored for heart patients.
Many of us would agree that we NEED doctors and surgeons. Human life would be shortened without those who have dedicated their lives to learning the trade of saving others. If we need a doctor for our physical body, why wouldn’t we need a doctor for our soul?
Yes, I know that God seems intangible to many. We can’t see him standing there in a white coat, scribbling prescriptions on his pad of paper. But our lives are filled with so many intangibles: love, hurt, sorrow, joy. We can’t physically see them, but we feel them deeply and know they are present and real. And if we all agree we need a doctor for our physical bodies, why wouldn’t we believe we need a doctor to renew our wounded spirit?
An unseen physician that we cannot see, but we can certainly feel everywhere
we open ourselves to find Him.
I’ve woken up with my new tradition for nearly a week now. And although I cannot brag by instagraming a picture of a doctor's chart showing improved blood pressure or cholesterol levels, I can say that I feel a difference inside. I know God is working.
So I will continue. There are those around me that are ready to support my weight as I lean against them and try to walk. And one day, I am confident that I
; and faster than ever before. And when I wear my swimming suit or a low-cut evening gown for a special evening out, my scar will occasionally make its white, smooth appearance. And I wear it like a badge of bravery - something that reminds me and everyone that there was pain. There was healing. There was a great surgeon that waited for me; whom I can completely and highly recommend.
"Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting the sin-sick; not the spiritually-fit."
-Jesus, Mark 2:17, The Bible