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Friday, November 20, 2015

Risks and the Rock Upon Which We Stand

It was the eve before Friday February 13th, the day we were finally set to fly to California… but a missing blood test threw the whole trip off.  Once again, cancelled flights, hearts hit the floor- could this be? I had waited 8 months for surgery and now one missing blood test that the local lab didn't do might toss me at the back of the waiting list once again?  We woke up before the sun rose to go to another local lab early Friday morning, to no avail- they couldn’t perform the test.  We called hospitals all over the mid-Atlantic, and Jamie finally raced me to Johns Hopkins to get the test when they gave us the green light over the phone.  They assured us we could have the test done and results in that very same day!  Little did we know that this hospital in Baltimore would play such a vital role in our story yet to unfold.  Getting blood drawn is typically no fun, but I felt like the man who drew my blood that morning was my angel.  Without that test, everything we had planned and prayed for would have crumbled…and there was no telling when I would be able to schedule surgery again. 

So we waited and prayed fervently for good results.  The phone rang in the afternoon as we sat around my parents’ living room, exhausted, anxious, excited…It was Dr. Shahinian’s office to tell us the results!  118, perfect score!  Our flights were booked for the next morning and the four of us were off- Mom, Dad, Jamie, and I.  Oh what a Valentine's Day celebration in the back of that Southwest plane with the heart logo glowing on the wall.  All four of us in facemasks, such a romantic holiday with my man!  Hand sanitizer pouring out endlessly, as it was flu season and catching even the slightest cold could cause my surgery to be cancelled.  My cousin had prepared a travel goodie bag for my trip, which kept Jamie and me entertained and talking and playing games the whole flight across country. 

Avoiding crowds and germs in LA is almost impossible, but we found hiking trails and beaches for every day leading up to surgery, in-between our pre-op visits.  On Monday, February 16th I met the man who would save my life.  He told me how tricky my surgery was.  He spared nothing and sugar-coated not one detail, yet he looked at me with quiet assurance in his eyes, "I'm going to do this."  The risks were high, very high…but I needed this to save my life.  On my journey leading up to surgery, I read a powerful book called, Take the Risk, by a brain surgeon who was one of my childhood heroes and favorite authors, Dr. Ben Carson.  The words in that book gave me courage and hope, reminding me that certain risks in life are well worth taking and potentially highly beneficial for our good.   The complications and consequences could be frightening if we step out into risk zones, but if we stay frozen in fear, the outcome could be far worse and we might miss out on the life God had planned for us.  I felt ready to embrace this risk!

I felt confident that Dr. Shahinian was fully capable to do the best job on removing this tumor from such a precarious and delicate location in my brain.  I knew my life was in his hands, and I also knew my life was in the Lord’s hands.  I think now of one of my favorite quotes from the Chronicles of Narnia, when Mr. Beaver responds to Susan’s question about Aslan the lion being safe or not, “Safe?...Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  That’s precisely how I felt at this precipice in my life.  I knew that what was to take place in three days was not safe.  The adventure God takes us on is not always safe.  The risks we must take to overcome are not always safe…but I knew with all my heart that the God who loved me enough to die on the cross at Calvary for me and rise again in triumph was and is and always will be good.

Romans 8:28-39 is one of my favorite passages- will you soak in the power of these words with me?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose…What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?... Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That kind of love is good to the core.  The love He offers is eternal, so no matter what happens, no matter when our final hour here on earth arrives, we are safe even when it is not safe, because our good Lord Jesus has a greater plan, a plan that reaches far beyond the grave and offers the dawning of a new day for those who believe.  In light of the chaos in the world and the terror on the news and the reality that we are surrounded by everything that is not safe, it is the most extraordinary promise to sink into the marvelous truth that our God is good!  It is a thrilling life to live when we realize the risks around us are real, our earthly security is on shaky sand, but the Mighty Rock we stand on will never be moved. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How the Adventure Began Last Fall...

I am about to share my story from this past year, and I hope if you continue to read, that first you go back and read what I wrote on October 19th. My last writing hopefully sets the stage for the heart of this writing.  This is how my story goes...

From Fall to life has been tested and my life has been taken by surprise.  I have received blessing beyond blessing and my heart has been captured anew by the grace of God.  September, one year ago, I met a man named Jamie- a good man with kindness in his eyes, faith and honesty in his soul, and a keen sense of wit and sarcasm that brings out laughter in those around him.  This was a man with a strong heart to serve, a steadfast love for his friends and family, and a gentle spirit (but don't let that spirit fool you, as his drive for life and adventure pulses in every vein).  Something was different about this man from the day we met, and my heart was brimming with peace and growing in newfound love I had never known before.  On our second phone call I had to tell him news no guy wants to hear from a girl he just met and had started to pursue, "So, you want to hear something crazy? I have a brain tumor..."  I thought that was the end of it, our goodbye before it ever really began...but he didn't skip a beat.  At the strangest, most daunting time in my life, I found deep friendship with this strong man named Jamie, which grew into lasting, forever-love.  He was by my side through it all.

In the meantime, friends and family had gathered about me with extraordinary generosity, incredible faith, and kindness beyond compare, raising funds for "Caitlin Jane's Brain Tune-Up" so that I could fly to California for life-saving skull-based surgery at my brain stem which would be performed by Dr. Shahinian.  Oh, and let me not forget to shout it from the rooftops that Jesus found my brain surgeon!  Yes, in an unpredictable turn of events, through pro-life advocacy work and a sweet woman in Ohio named Kim, I became friends with Bruce Marchiano- the renowned Hollywood actor best known for playing the role of Jesus in more films than any other actor.  Bruce told me in an email, "I believe I know the best brain surgeon in the country...just let me know if you can't find anyone on the east coast."  Closed door after closed door led me no other option than California, as my tumor was in the most critical part of the human anatomy, surrounded by the brain stem, three cranial nerves, and an artery running through it.  To most neurosurgeons- this was what is considered, quite frankly, "inoperable."  My primary care physician told me with a kind and perplexed twinkle in his eye, “Caitlin, you broke the first rule of medicine.  You never want your doctor telling you, ‘This is interesting! I’ve never seen this before!’”  However, the doctor "Jesus" found for me was quite confident he could operate successfully, though he informed me that the risks were high and anything could happen in surgery.  (Yes, I do believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit who led me to Bruce who led me to Dr. Shahinian.  I love to joke about Jesus finding my surgeon, but in all seriousness, it was a miracle that God led me to this doctor and there is no such thing as coincidence!)  My dad and I read through Dr. Shahinian’s text book on endoscopic brain surgery and we were amazed- this procedure he had perfected was exactly what my precarious and rare situation required, and we knew without doubt that this was the man to whom God had led us for my operation. 

Unfortunately, the date of my first surgery was delayed due to medical politics...and my heart was crushed.  I chose to not give up hope.  There’s always a purpose and a blessing, even when our plans are dashed and what makes sense is in fact crashing around us into pieces.  Little did I know at the time that that date when I was supposed to be flying to California for surgery (just about one year ago- November 8th, 2014) would be the date Jamie took me on our first date.  Had I had surgery as originally planned on that day in November, I may have never gotten to know my now husband.  I think of Psalm 33:19-11, "For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples.  But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations."  I had planned to have brain surgery, but God planned to bring into my life the man who would marry me. Before Christmas my surgery was delayed once again...crushing news, but we would not give up, yet again.  By this time over 100 patients around the world were on a wait list for Dr. Shahinian and others were being turned away, as He had to find a new hospital out of which to do his operations.

On January 2nd, 2015, the night Jamie and my parents and I went to see Les Mis with our dear friend Nancy and her family, I received the call that I was back on the operating schedule and it would be the following month!  Time to book plane tickets and make plans once we go!  January 4th was the wedding of the dear couple that introduced Jamie and me.  What a gift to be able to sing at one of my closest friend's weddings and celebrate in their joy, all because my surgery had been delayed that second time.  January 22nd was the annual March for Life, and my heart was happy beyond words to be there on behalf of life, beautiful life.  February 1st was the last day I sang before surgery- I picked the words of the old Charles Wesley hymn, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" and played a haunting new tune I wrote on the piano.  I was about to embark on this great adventure, with a man by my side who cherished me, family supporting me day by day (and helping me “keep it real”), and friends around the country cheering me on with prayers and cards.  

What was about to happen I couldn’t predict…I didn’t know what the outcome would hold, but I knew the God who held the outcome.  Christian Holocaust survivor who bravely laid her life on the line to protect Jews, Corrie ten Boom, said it best, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  And so I was ready for whatever might come my way, because I knew my God went before me.

Love Divine, all loves excelling
Joy of heaven, to earth come down
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling
All Thy faithful mercies crown

Jesus, Thou art all compassion
Pure, unbounded love Thou art
Visit us with Thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart

Breathe, oh, breathe Thy Holy Spirit
Into every troubled breast
Let us all Thy grace inherit
Let us find Thy promised rest

Take away the love of sinning
Take our load of guilt away
End the work of Thy beginning
Bring us to eternal day

Carry on Thy new creation
Pure and holy may we be
Let us see our whole salvation
Perfectly secured by Thee

Change from glory into glory
Till in heaven we take our place
Till we cast our crowns before Thee
Lost in wonder, love, and praise

(Charles Wesley, 1747)