In the depths of our being, do we believe that he really has good in store for our lives? What about those times when life feels anything but? When situations seem to show otherwise, how can we glean the good?
This has been my quest: discovering God’s goodness in the land of the living and to search for its deeper meaning.
I’ve lived with a broken heart my entire life. It’s felt like it’s always cracking open to let in the sorrow of this world, disbanded dreams, seasons of hurt and loneliness, and a constant ache for more (Enneagram 4 talking!).
But I didn’t know about the literal side of my broken heart until December 2018. While I was sitting in my living room, the walls rocked side-to-side like I was on a ship in a storm in the middle of the sea. My left arm numb and shaking, I lost control, with words not connecting properly in my brain to form delayed and slurred speech.
It was a stroke, the neurologist told me later in the hospital. On the CT scan results, three white dots lit up like fireworks on my cerebellum.
I didn’t expect that at 33 years old.
All I could do was keep praising my way through. During the MRI, with Elevation Worship’s “Do It Again” playing through the speaker, I believed that he would not fail me. More CT scans, pulse readings, talks with doctors and nurses. He was there with me, in the hospital—this I felt. And I would cling to the goodness that didn’t make sense.
A few hours later, I was strapped with saline injected in my veins to push bubbles through my heart for an echocardiogram. That’s when the cardiologist told me he found a PFO—a Patent Foramen Ovale—a hole between the upper chambers of my heart. Turns out it’s been there since birth. Most of us are born with this opening, but it usually closes. Mine didn’t, and I’d been living with a gaping hole in me. This explained why I felt so much pain of the world, why I felt like I was bleeding out with the cries of so many hurting people, my own ability to feel so sharp within.
Yes, I had a broken heart, but in the middle of it was the blessing: peace I felt in my hospital bed, gratefulness for modern medicine, kind nurses and doctors, friends and family who cared deeply. I radiated the presence of God and shared about his goodness as much as I could to the medical staff that marveled at what I’ve experienced so young, how I had no residual effects from the stroke and could talk, move, think. It was all a gift, God holding me close.
I spent the next few months recovering at home to let my brain rest and heal, going to doctors’ appointments to prep for my microscopic heart procedure that would insert a tiny umbrella-like device to close the hole. All the while, I turned the word good over and over in my heart, asking God what he meant in all this chaos, in the medical unknowns and standing me close to the edge of death and life.
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. – Psalm 27:13-14
This was the promise he led me to cling to. To see his GOODNESS in the land of the LIVING. What did it look like when all seemed inside out, when he pulled me from everyday life to lean in close to him because I had nowhere else to go?
I prayed for a miracle. I knew he was able to close the hole in my heart on his own, and I asked for him to do so by my last checkup before the surgery. I believed, but the hole was still there. Disappointed and fearful when procedure day came, I slipped onto the operating table, entrusting my life to the one who gave me breath. Afterward, coming out of the light anesthesia, my cardiologist told me he had found another hole—TWO holes in my heart—but he closed them both.
I had prayed for the hole to go away, to not have to go through the surgery. But if I hadn’t, the doctor wouldn’t have seen the second hole that went undetected on the tests.
Over the months, I’ve been reminded of the story in Exodus 33 when the Israelites are moving forward into the Promised Land and Moses talks to God as a friend, daring to ask for deeper revelation of the LORD:
And the Lord said, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” He said, “you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live.”
Then the Lord said, “There is a place near Me where you may stand on a rock. When My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove My hand and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”
- Exodus 33:19-23
There’s the truth in the underside: glory and goodness go together, and it often comes when God places us in the cleft of a rock. There, we can’t see the whole landscape. We have a limited view. It feels constricting, uncomfortable, and at times, claustrophobic. But while we are in the cleft of that rock, God’s glory passes by, in all his goodness.
On my one-month checkup, my cardiologist read my latest test results, turned, and said, “Your heart is perfect.” The words washed over me like warm rain in a sunny sky. My heart is perfect. The procedure worked, God stitched me whole in more ways than one. Ten months ago, did I know about my good for his glory? Ten minutes ago, did I even know the blessing of brokenness? I’m still learning, but I have seen his goodness in the land of the living, and it is enough.