Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Best Gift of All?

Christmas is synonymous with gifts – given and received. One of our preoccupations this time of year is what to get for that special person, family or friend. Will they like it? What if they don’t? And from time to time we’re asked, “What would you like for Christmas?”

If I were to ask you that question, you could probably rattle off at least several things. And the ones you mention would be different from mine, or someone else I might ask. But six years ago today I gained a new appreciation for a gift I’d already had.

Dec. 20, 2006 I joined what fellow members often refer to as “the zipper club.” A renowned cardiothoracic surgeon cut open my chest and performed life-saving heart surgery, giving me four coronary artery bypass grafts (referred to by professionals as CABG or “cabbage”), along with an aortic root  replacement – an entirely new ascending aorta. Then they sewed me back up, hence the “zipper.”

My original aorta was more than twice the normal size, and that’s not recommended. Picture a balloon being blown up to its maximum – and then blowing more air into it. Not a big deal with a balloon, but it is with an aorta. The bursting of an aortic dissection, an aneurysm or abnormal enlargement in the aorta, took the life of popular comedian John Ritter in 2003.

Following my surgery, my heart pillow
became my best friend whenever I had
to cough or sneeze.
So when I awoke after the 4½-hour surgery, I knew I’d received a gift – another day of life. Going in, my surgeon had said that given my age and overall physical condition, I had a 95% chance of getting through the surgery well. Of course, that also meant a 5% chance of not making it – during a major procedure like that, any number of problems or complications can occur. Thankfully, I had none.

In the days leading up to my surgery, while pondering my uncertain  future, I came across a Bible verse that I embraced as a promise from God. It said, “The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness” (Psalm 41:3). God kept His promise, and on Christmas Day five days later, I understood I’d received a wonderful gift.

So every morning when I awake to start a new day, I’m reminded of this gift. Not one of us is assured of tomorrow, but going through a major illness or complex surgery makes that reality more apparent. That’s what I point out to recent open-heart surgery patients I visit as a volunteer at the hospital where I had my surgery.

During a season when we think in terms of “stuff” – clothing, jewelry, toys, books, games, all manner of electronics and technology – we need to remember that just being physically present with friends and family on Christmas morning is truly a gift. The simple acts of living and breathing are easily taken for granted; but when we think about loved ones that are no longer with us, we realize there is no guarantee.

Every day is, indeed, a gift.

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