“That’s why we’re always full of courage. Even while we’re at home in the body, we’re homesick to be with the Master— for we live by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. We live with a joyful confidence, yet at the same time we take delight in the thought of leaving our bodies behind to be at home with the Lord. So whether we live or die we make it our life’s passion to live our lives pleasing to Him.”2 Corinthians 5:6-9 (TPT)
There are things in this life that words, feelings, and logic cannot explain.
When these events, activities, or situations occur, do you believe it was by chance? Or do you believe the things in this world are best understood when you understand the One who created them?
Let me start by saying I don’t believe in coincidences, luck or karma. In this life I believe there are divine experiences that collide with the world’s circumstances to showcase the power of God’s handiwork.
At an annual eye exam in early August 2017, my optometrist detected what she described as a scar on my eyeball. She didn’t have the ability or expertise to thoroughly inspect or diagnosis me on the spot, so she referred me to a retina specialist.
I wasn’t too concerned at the time and ended up enjoying a fantastic vacation with my husband to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary later that week. Fast forward a few weeks later to September 1st – the day of my retina appointment. That day stands out in my mind because it was the day I found out I was expecting my 4th child (you can do the math 🙂 ) and later would learn of some news that would forever impact my life.
As I had mentioned above, I wasn’t too concerned about my eye and after speaking with my mom about the potential scar, I had come to the conclusion that the mark detected was most likely a scar from childhood roughness, like getting elbowed in the eye while playing sports or something similar. I walked into the doctor’s office feeling optimistic and completely naïve.
Three hours later and I left the doctor’s office an emotional disaster.
After getting both eyes dilated, poked and prodded with various contraptions, bright lights shining in my eyes (I’m prone to migraines and bright or flashing lights are my triggers), being physically restrained so my eyelids could be pulled down and back (sorry, TMI), I had learned that the cause for concern was not a childhood scar. Nope. That probably would have had me in the office for about an hour and out in time to bring my eldest to tennis practice.
I was diagnosed with the incurable condition called coloboma. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, coloboma “describes conditions where normal tissue in or around the eye is missing at birth. The eye develops quickly during a fetus’ first three months of growth. A gap, known as the choroidal fissure, appears at the bottom of the stalks that eventually forms the eye. This fissure generally closes by the seventh week of pregnancy. If it does not close, a coloboma or space forms. A coloboma can affect one or both eyes. If both eyes are involved, it can affect them the same way or differently. There are different types of coloboma…”
From that moment, I began a 9-month journey with my retina specialist in Scottsdale, AZ to discover that I had the type of coloboma that affected the retina and am at risk of retinal detachment, cataracts, and glaucoma, amongst other issues pertaining to permanent vision loss.
During this time, I was not only pregnant but also had received an unexpected answer to a relentless prayer – my family would be relocating back home to Michigan.
It was a heavy load, for sure, but one I was able to bear because of the Spirit’s courage and strength within me. It’s funny how when the ground seems to be crumbling around you, faith is the foundation that keeps you grounded. For me, I wasn’t just grounded in faith. I was firmly rooted in it and nothing was going to tear me down or pull me out.
Little did I know that another piece would be added to the puzzle during my 3rd appointment with my retinal specialist. I informed him that I was moving across the country and asked him if he had any referrals in Michigan (at the time, my coloboma was being monitored with 3-6 month check-ups so a referral was vital). Turns out he had a colleague he spoke highly of so he went to gather his contact information for me but first asked me where I was moving to in Michigan. I told him the general area and I am not kidding you, his referral was not only located in the city I was moving to, but the practice was located less than 2 miles from the home my family was buying! Seriously! I cannot make this stuff up! (I guess I could, but trust me, I wouldn’t do that to you!)
My time in AZ wasn’t over yet and God wanted to drop one last truth bomb before we moved. I’m convinced it was His way of showing me He was not done with me yet while also preparing me for the long road ahead.
My 4th child, Livianna (who we call, Livi), was born in Scottsdale, AZ on Mother’s Day on May 13, 2018. We were set to move to West Michigan on May 31, 2018. The week prior to our move, I noticed something in Livi’s eye after my good friend and photographer, Sara, sent me a teaser from Livi’s newborn photo session.
Whoa, what is that? I believe was my initial response upon looking at the photo and doing an immediate double-take.
It appeared that Livi’s pupil looked like a cat’s eye. I showed my husband who suspected it was a camera flaw that could be corrected in PhotoShop but sure enough, we peeled back Livi’s eyelid and noticed that her right pupil did in fact mimic that of a cat’s. We rushed to get her a last-minute appointment with her pediatrician before we moved and were given an urgent request to meet with a pediatric ophthalmologist as soon as we made it to Michigan.
It wasn’t exactly the news I was hoping to receive when getting ready to move our new (and young!) family of 6 across the country to Michigan (I forgot to mention this was our 8th move across 4 states in less than 11 years).
Thus began Livi’s journey…
On our trek across middle America from the hot desert of Arizona to the much cooler and breezier Midwest, I was able to find a pediatrician that – wait for it – was located less than 2 miles and directly next door to both my retina specialist and the highest recommended pediatric ophthalmologist in all of West Michigan. The pediatrician immediately referred us to the ophthalmologist who performed numerous procedures (that I witnessed and will forever haunt me) and came to the conclusion that Livianna has coloboma of the iris. Her doctor asked me if I knew what coloboma was…
Do I know what coloboma is?! I wanted to shout. Oh my goodness, doc! The day I found out I was pregnant with Livi was the exact same day I found out I have coloboma!
With tears in my eyes, I couldn’t say any words so I nodded. I remember feeling God’s presence in that room and His presence was affirmed when I noticed the numerous sightings of scripture throughout the walls of the pediatric ophthalmology practice. In fact, in the main waiting room there is an art piece that reads, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV)
That following month, my nearly two-month-old baby was scheduled for an EKG and an MRI to determine if her coloboma was a symptom of a greater issue such as a heart defect or a brain tumor, both of which have been linked to coloboma. It was also possible that her coloboma was genetically related or could have happened by chance.
If you have faith, you know God doesn’t allow anything to happen by chance.
Praise the Lord that Livi’s medical scans came back clear, though, her journey was only starting.
Livi’s doctor continued to see her regularly that first year to monitor the status of her incurable condition. As the months went by, my encounter with my new retinal specialist neared. He picked back up where my AZ doctor left off and we had a good laugh about the “coincidence” of them knowing each other and the proximity to where I was living in Grand Rapids. The fun ended there, though, as I informed my new doctor of my baby daughter’s coloboma of the iris and the previous months she endured to determine the cause or treatment. He put me through the dreadful procedures that I’ve come to know all too well and then said he had to go check something. I sat there alone in the patient room and prayed.
All of a sudden, my YouVerison app alerted me of the Verse of the Day:
“Now God has us where He wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all His idea, and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”Ephesians 2:7-10 (MSG)
The doctor reentered the room and laid down another puzzle piece. He asked me if I had any familial history of skin cancer, breast cancer and/or colon cancer?
I had skin cancer in Fall of 2014 and 15-month medical scare with breast cancer from 2015-2016. My paternal grandfather had battled colon cancer (and lost).
As if that wasn’t enough, he showed me my scans and they looked nearly identical to Livi’s.
Words cannot describe what I was feeling. (I know I’ve alluded to that a lot in this post, but it’s the truth. As a writer, you can imagine my frustration to not be able to communicate more specific adjectives!)
The doctor couldn’t believe his ears and sent me through genetic testing, which I did, to no avail. And that brings me to where I am today…
I am still being monitored annually with my retinal coloboma because of the high risk of retinal detachment and permanent vision loss. Livi’s coloboma check-up in 2019 provided my family with a huge praise when her doctor called her vision “a blessing,” “unheard of,” and “a miracle.” However, her 2020 appointment was not as hopeful. I learned her condition has worsened and has expanded to affect her retina and perhaps even her optic nerve (testing will begin in 2021). Her risk of going blind has increased immensely. It was not the news I anticipated.
The crazy thing is, I felt this overwhelming, unexplainable sense of peace (Philippians 4:7) upon learning her present condition. Over the years, I’ve gathered Livi’s doctor is a follower of Christ and while he is reputable in his practice, I still can’t put a word to the peace, hope and comfort I felt upon him telling me her latest diagnosis.
We may not know why certain things happen, why big moments affect us or small ones slip by without a thought, why trials enter our life, why mountains block our view, valleys cause us to wander, or pastures call us to stop and rest.
We usually don’t know while we’re experiencing whatever it is we’re experiencing, but hear this – each and every itty bitty thing that happens in our life is for a purpose. It is a part of our story, whether it be a new page, chapter, or dog-eared moment to come back to.
This entire journey with coloboma, including discovering it while living across the country in Arizona (even though I was born with it) on the same day I found out I was pregnant with my 4th child to be born in Arizona, to the potential link of coloboma to breast, skin and colon cancer and my personal and familial health history with those specific conditions, to the reason God relocated my family to the desert during a time that made absolutely no sense at all, to the unknown that lies ahead on the path that’s already been paved – all of these little pieces are pieces of the puzzle that make up my life story.
It brings me to tears, not because of fear or sadness but because I am in AWE of the Almighty God and His Sovereignty! God is faithful to His promises and He always sees them through.
I know God has BIG plans for my life and my daughter’s, and for you, too. I don’t know exactly what they are or how they will come about but I trust they are filled with a purpose unlike anything my limited human mind could ever imagine.
Live by faith, friend, not by sight.
We can’t see what lies ahead and we can’t make sense of a world that makes no sense. But know, each moment you experience on earth is a divine invitation to encounter the Creator of the Universe.
Like the pieces in a puzzle, some things in life are flipped over, unseen or may not make sense on their own, but slowly each piece will be brought together to unveil a much bigger picture.
“Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.”Hebrews 11:1 (CEV)