Like never before, I have realized the precious gift of life this past year. One year ago, on January 22, I marched for life as I’ve done now for several years in Washington D.C., yet this time with my own life hanging in the balance as I faced critical brain surgery less than a month away…Little did I know how the experiences I would walk through in 2015 would change me forever and challenge the way I look at the value of life every single day.
Yesterday I watched a meaningful film, Marie’s Story, about a young woman born in late 1800s France, both blind and deaf from birth. Her story spoke to my soul. When the world saw this girl as shutoff from life, unable to learn or communicate, and even a little crazy, there was a compassionate nun named Marguerite who saw such beautiful potential in the midst of her suffering, and believed that Marie’s life had worth and value and hope. I felt a bond with young Marie, an understanding in a small way of what she endured and had to overcome. My story is nowhere near her extraordinary triumph, but I do understand what it is like to be partially deaf and partially blind (although temporarily), and to have those around me believe in me and lift me to new heights of life.
There was no certainty of my outcome after surgery. The stakes were high. The risks greater than most surgeries of this kind. With three cranial nerves, an artery, and the brain stem all involved, this delicate procedure was nearly impossible. But the Lord led me to Dr. Shahinian, the best of the world’s best surgeons, to remove the tumor and give me a future. God is God of the impossible (Matthew 19:26). Bruce Marchiano, hollywood actor best known for his role as Jesus in countless films and producer of the pro-life film, Alison’s Choice, was the man who introduced me to Dr. Shahinian. This providential course of events could have been orchestrated by none but the Lord alone.
On February 19, 2015, I woke up alive from surgery! However, in that moment I was deaf in one ear, had completely blurred vision, and my nerves were “on fire”. There were days, when by the world’s standards, I was less than human. Unable to walk alone, feed myself alone, see clearly, or hear clearly…I couldn’t even brush my teeth without assistance or get out of bed to sit in a chair without my caregivers’ help. My smile was misshapen due to temporary partial paralysis of my face. My left eye couldn’t close on it’s own, but it also couldn’t see clearly, so with a cold compress on my eyes and an icepack on my head, I sat for hours in discomfort. Every day. Sleeping was agony. Waking up was agony. There seemed to be no relief from the pain. But in my heart and mind, God was speaking to me so clearly. He showed me in those weakest, most vulnerable moments, that He valued my life, as frail and dependent as I was, unable to do much of anything or offer the world anything. God loved me and my life still had dignity, beauty, and value. This love was so tangibly evident through the love of my family during this time. It was keenly evident in the way my mom cared for me, as if I were her little baby all over again. She would do everything for me. She made sure I was fed and washed and safe and as comfortable as possible. My life depended on my two parents and on my boyfriend at the time (now husband) as they cared for me selflessly. There was nothing I could give them or do for them to pay them back. It was just pure love that led them to see my life with worth and dignity, and to treat me as a valuable person in those moments when I was so disabled. Over and over again, I had this clear picture in my mind of the sanctity of life. My life was weak and feeble, frail and undignified. All my strength was taken from me, and I was helpless in my recovery. Yet, I was loved so deeply and cared for by my God and by my family in the most extraordinary way.
My brain tumor was unplanned, but my doctor, nurses, and family chose life for me and took care of me at every moment, no matter how difficult it was some days. Then, as I was healing and miracles were happening and I was beginning to feel somewhat “normal” again, two months later…the man with whom I’d fallen in love faced his own unplanned diagnosis– cancer. That word sent a shock through me. Jamie was the strong one. He was the one who helped carry me through my trial and into healing. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Our suffering was supposed to be nearly over! Another surgery…this time it was an operation to remove his tumor. This time I would be the one offering strength to him, in his weak moments of pain and recovery. Then came chemo. None of this was in the plans! Our plan was to get married! He had asked me to marry him when I was feeling strong enough to say yes, and truly we did not count on all of this! Through 9 weeks of the agony…chemotherapy treatments, nausea, hair loss, hospitalization, the life in his eyes all but gone…this man’s life to me was still worth everything. No matter what suffering he endured, he continually had dignity, value, and displayed the glory of the image of God, in whose likeness he was created. In Jamie’s weakest moments, in his suffering, in this unplanned course of events, life was precious. Those moments are the ones I will never forget. Moments of needing one another, because our lives depended on it. Moments of fear, unknown, and faith in God, because our Heavenly Father and Creator was our total and only source of strength, our constant Sustainer and Life-Giver. Our story was not normal. It was not predictable. It surely was not planned. But it was life. It is life. Beautiful and broken. Fragile and sacred. Messy and continually molded by the Creator.
I remember sitting in the hospital with Jamie during one of his chemo treatments, reading a reputable medical journal on cancer. I sat there in horror and disbelief, reading an article about new genetic testing for embryos predisposed to certain genes which could cause cancer, and the option for parents to abort if they find out their child might have this genetic predisposition. What?! Was I reading this correctly? Don’t let a baby live because they might encounter suffering in their life or they might possibly have cancer? My beloved Jamie could have been one of those babies. Or I could have been one if they knew I was going to have a brain tumor. I suppose that is why 90% of babies with Down Syndrome (or even those that might have it, and doctors aren’t positive) are aborted. Because we think that if there is any suffering in life, any challenges, then life is not worth living. Well, my friend, that is far from the truth! No one is immune from pain or suffering. It is in the suffering that the beauty of life is seen and experienced most vividly! As Nicholas Sparks quotes in his popular novel, A Walk to Remember, “Without suffering, there’d be no compassion.” How true. Compassion shines through in the midst of the most excruciating suffering. We see it so perfectly in the passion of the Christ- the suffering of Christ is the ultimate act of Compassion, as he took the pain, the sin, the sickness, the brokenness of the entire world upon his shoulders on the cross at Calvary. Compassion is “to suffer with”. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered with us and for us, and through his suffering, we have gained life abundant and life eternal. When we suffer, we are not alone. We are God’s children, beloved and created in His image. Please read these two passages from Scripture, which emphasize our place in God’s Kingdom as His children, and give validity and hope to our sufferings.
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad- for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world.” – 1 Peter 4:12-13
“For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” – Romans 8:16-18
Suffering is a part of this tapestry of life. Some pieces might not be as pretty or smooth as others, but it is all part of the fabric of our story, the woven intricacy of our being. Nothing is wasted in God’s story. He turns suffering into hope and glory. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:3-5, “…but we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
On January 22, 2016, I will march again. I am grateful to be alive. I will march for life, because life is precious. Life is a gift. Every man, woman, child, and baby have dignity, worth, value, and potential. Even when life is unplanned, or the sufferings we encounter are unplanned, life is beautiful and glorious! May we never take for granted the greatest of all gifts- life. May we never undermine the value of each and every person created by Almighty God.