THE HEART OF THINGS
by Dawn Sherill-Porter
God’s plans are much greater than we can ever imagine.
The heart is an interesting thing. Physically, it keeps the blood pumping through our bodies and is, therefore, essential for life. Metaphorically, our hearts are the seats of our emotion and will — the source of all we think, feel, say, and do. When we’re hurting, we say we’re heartbroken. When we’re burdened, we may speak of our hearts being heavy. But one of the most powerful descriptors of a heart in my life is the word backward. I know that sounds funny, but stay with me.
My husband, Kyle, was born with a condition known as TGA (Transposition of the Great Arteries). Basically, when he was born, his heart was backward. With modern technology, the medical “fix” for this now is far less complicated than it was in 1978. Kyle was just a few days old when his heart surgeries took place; the surgeons gave him a five percent chance of survival. Knowing Kyle had a 95 percent chance of dying didn’t offer his family much hope; but God had plans for Kyle’s heart that would last years, not just days.
Kyle and I grew up in the same small town in Kentucky. Our families were friends and went to church together — my mom was even his mom’s Sunday school teacher. I was only four years old when Kyle was born into this life-threatening situation, but I remember my mom praying for him and his family. Little did we know the pivotal importance his miracle survival would have in my life.
As the years went by, Kyle and I would often be in the same Sunday School or Bible school class, and he always made me laugh. With our four-year age difference, we didn’t hang out a lot, but I can tell you there was never a dull moment when he was around. He wasn’t defined by his heart condition; as a matter of fact, nobody really even thought about it. He was just Kyle — the hilarious kid who spoke with a deep, country, manly voice beyond his years, entertaining us all with his stories (especially those about his chickens).
Meanwhile, I was planning adventures. Like many little girls, I dreamed about my future wedding. My wedding involved me being in my thirties and standing on a beach with steel drum music in the background. (Not knowing its name at the time, I described it as “that beachy music.”) I didn’t have the big-church-wedding-with-20-bridesmaids dream. I had the go-on-adventures-and-eventually-meet-the-perfect-guy-and-marry-on-the-beach-at-some-point-before-I’m-too-old dream. When I was seventeen, I prayed a prayer to God that consisted of three words: whenever, wherever, whatever. He took me up on my offer and led me through some really cool, challenging, fun, sad, unbelievable, crazy, maturing times. Every two years or so for the next 18 years of my life, I moved as God led — from town to town and from challenging job to challenging job. Then, in a move no one saw coming, God brought my journey full circle and led me back home to Kentucky.
About the time I was moving back, Kyle’s heart decided it was almost done; he was very close to death. As a matter of fact, he wondered if he would even leave the hospital without a heart transplant. Amazingly, Kyle did get to go home and slowly began getting better; not good-as-new, but better. Once again, God had plans we couldn’t even guess.
Since life in small-town Kentucky offered little in the way of career opportunities in my field, I was taking a leap of faith and beginning a publishing partnership with a long-time co-worker; the partnership would allow me to work from home, yet, still travel and share God’s Word with others.
At this point in my life, I had taken a strong hiatus from dating. Dating had just become an exhausting affair for which I had neither the time nor the energy. A serious relationship wasn’t even on my radar.
About a year later, I went to our little church on “Homecoming Sunday,” a day when people who have moved away often come back to fellowship together at the church where they grew up. I looked behind me in the pews, and there sat Kyle with his son (a mini-me version of Kyle). They both looked at me with these big, sky-blue eyes and said “Hi” and I thought they were the cutest things ever. Over the fellowship meal, Kyle and I talked and began to catch up. We talked about our lives and I was reminded how he was a walking miracle. He defied odds as a baby and as an adult — it was obvious, God’s plan for Kyle was far from over. This isn’t to say he was perfectly healed — just the fact that he was alive and walking and talking to me that day was miracle enough. But that was just a small part of our conversation. The biggest part of that day I spent realizing that Kyle made me smile and laugh just as much as an adult as he did as a kid. He was an even better story-teller now — and still could tell me anything I’d ever want to know about chickens. As always, there wasn’t a dull moment when I was around him, and I giggled a lot, just as I had years ago.
Less than a year from that day (which was my birthday!), we were married on the beach with steel drum music in the background. Crossing paths with him again at Homecoming was my best birthday present ever. I ended up in the place I had dreamed, but I never could have guessed the route God planned that led me there. At the heart of the matter, it wasn’t about ending up on the beach with a steel drum. It was about trusting God along the journey. And that’s something we’re still doing, and honestly still learning to do, every day.
Within months of our wedding day, Kyle was life-flighted via helicopter to a hospital three hours away. God had kept this amazing backward heart beating for so long — we were both starting a brand-new phase of life, one neither of us had expected. Would it be over so soon?
It was tough. The three-hour drive to the hospital felt like three days to me. But I knew God had planned this whole journey; He crossed our paths in a way we couldn’t have imagined if we tried. The timing and circumstances were too intricate. Could it all have been for just a few months together? If so, I was thankful for them. But I prayed with my whole, anxious, desperate-to-have-faith heart. Driving down that seemingly endless road, I was overwhelmed with the “peace that passes understanding;” I knew in my heart that it wasn’t over. And it wasn’t. Within a week, we were back home. That time, it was a gall-bladder attack, throwing off his whole system and panicking his heart.
ONE DAY AT A TIME
It’s likely there will be more of these experiences to come. There will always be a myriad of tests and cardiology appointments. There will always be the task of redefining normal, over and over again. His heart will always be backward, physically. But his heart, in regard to his love and his faith, is stronger than ever.
We know that every day could be the day his physical heart finally gives up. With his condition, there’s really not a way for the doctors to predict what might happen, or when. His heart may defy the odds for 30 more years. Or it might fail again tomorrow. Each day, his heart determines how much he can, or can’t, do. So, we take one day at a time. We redefine normal quite often. When it boils down to the heart of the matter, we have two choices: we can wake up each day and wonder if this will be the day his heart finally gives up; or we can wake up each day and celebrate that we have another one and then live it to the full!
When we were dating and began getting serious, Kyle told me I had his heart — then he said, “It’s backwards and slightly enlarged, but it’s yours.” First, I smiled because the way he said it was so cute, and so like his personality. Then, I thanked God for the honor of loving and being loved by this heart.
Both our journeys have had many twists and turns and unexpected roadblocks and valleys. But God has been the constant. In our weakest moments, His strength has been undeniable. In our mistakes, His grace has been abundant. In our confusion, His peace has been overwhelming. Every time we have had to reevaluate what we can or can’t manage anymore, He is the constant.
Many of us are familiar with Philippians 4:13 that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV). We often see this verse alone on T-shirts or other motivational items. But if we back up just a bit and look in verse 12, we see Paul’s point is really deeper than we may think: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (NIV). No matter what situation Paul was in, he was content in Christ. He could do all things — he could be content in any situation that arose on his journey in life — because of Christ, because God is constant.
FIND STRENGTH EACH DAY
We don’t know what will happen with Kyle’s heart tomorrow or the next day. Honestly, we don’t know what will happen with my heart either. But we can’t live in fear of the unknown. Instead, we can abide in the truth we do know: God is with us and for us and will never leave or forsake us. The one part of normal we’ll never have to redefine is the supernatural fact that God is always with us. Nothing we face is bigger than He is. We don’t know tomorrow, but we know Him, and that’s infinitely better. This is where we find the strength to face yet another heart test or yet another crisis moment that results in a helicopter ride. This is where we find the strength to see every day as a fresh opportunity and to live every bit of life we’re given. Our Lord speaks peace and life into our hearts, and He never goes back on His Word or leaves us alone. Bottom line, at the heart of it all, we know that God’s love for us never fails.
Dawn Sherill-Porter is a Christian writer, editor, speaker, and co-founder of ECHO Creative Media, a cooperative publishing partnership. She lives in Western Kentucky with her husband, Kyle, and an assortment of chickens, dogs, and cows.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (February 2017). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.