In today’s world where news travels fast, we see so much suffering happening every day, affecting so many lives. Suffering can bring us to the brink of despair. Or suffering can strengthen.
Here is the story of Chase Oaker Mark Urbin and his family as they learned how finding joy in suffering can transform your life.
Letting Go of a Mantra
Work hard. Sweat the details. Go above and beyond. That was the rhythm of life ingrained in Mark Urbin as a kid in the Rust Belt.
But the mantra he’d embraced, that he thought brought him a great job, an amazing wife and kids, well, that mantra wasn’t ringing true anymore.
The 54-year-old focused on a different beat now. In a bottom-baring hospital gown, in a sterilized-for-his-protection hospital bed, he was listening to his heart.
It wasn’t the strong LUB-DUB, LUB-DUB he remembered as a kid. It was a softer triple beat, lub-dub-lub. lub-dub-lub. And it was weakening.
Building Success in Life
Mark grew up in Michigan, got a job working with General Electric, just like his dad. He became a work-driven-nomad.
While living in Louisville, he met friends at a brewery. Between talking work and Detroit Tigers’ baseball, he spotted the one who made his heart skip a beat in the best way.
He got Ginny’s phone number, and their first date was the very next night. A year later, he dropped on one knee and proposed to the girl with a light-up-the-room smile.
Not long after came their first daughter, thoughtful Grace, then Lauren, the independent one, and finally Will, the boy who never met a sport he didn’t like. All smart, good-hearted kids who made him proud.
The family followed Mark’s job. Like all families, they experienced challenges, some inevitable, like deaths of loved ones, others created, like stressing about unorganized shoes in the laundry room.
Discovering Truths About Faith and Family
One night while nodding off 8,000 miles away in India on business, despite adventures he’d enjoyed, he realized it was time to be home, be the dad and husband he knew he could be.
About the same time, he took a closer look at his spiritual path. He’d gone to church as a kid, even been an altar boy, but more out of his parents’ desire than his own.
As he got older, he’d toss out daily prayers, but his shadow rarely crossed a church threshold.
“I wasn’t the best example for the kids,” he said with a twinge of regret, admitting he spent more effort building his fine wine and whiskey collection than his knowledge of Scripture.
The family moved to a beautiful home in North Texas. He started coaching the kids’ teams and going to school events. The family found Chase Oaks Church, and he spent more time helping folks in the community.
Connecting to God During Difficult Times
At a golf benefit for the family of a close friend who died suddenly, Mark started feeling puny.
“I was exhausted like I’d never been, got a cough I couldn’t shake,” he said.
Like most guys cast from the “tough it out” mold, he waited for it to pass. It didn’t. He grudgingly went to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with bronchitis, requiring some antibiotics and rest.
A couple weeks later, the cough settled deeper. The guy who’d done high-intensity workouts felt weak.
It got to the point Mark had a tough time drawing a breath. He spent nights in a chair playing online poker and focusing on getting air into his lungs.
His prayers morphed from a scripted “Our Father” to short conversations.
“Pastor Jeff had said we should picture kneeling in front of the Father, pray like we’re speaking with our Dad, so I did,” he said.
It was odd at first and prayers were brief. Speaking to the Architect of the Universe was intimidating. Mark would send up a quick, “Father, please help me feel better.”
Short, to the point, it didn’t take up too much of the Father’s time but helped Mark feel closer to the Divine. He would need that deeper relationship.
Facing an Unexpected Health Crisis
He felt worse, so he went to the emergency room. A CAT scan indicated what might be pneumonia with a side order of bronchitis. Or…congestive heart failure.
“The ER doctor mentioned that to Ginny, they looked the same, but heart failure wasn’t what they were thinking,” Mark said. So, they sent him home with more medicine.
Not long after, he felt his heart straining to beat, and it scared him. At three in the morning, in an effort to let the family rest, he snuck out and drove himself to the ER.
After more poking, prodding, and scans to peek into his chest, the newest doctor confirmed bronchitis, pneumonia…and a viral attack on Mark’s heart.
“The virus enlarged my heart, a valve wouldn’t close,” he said matter-of-factly.
In the following rush of days, one doctor said Mark would get treatment and recover. It didn’t work. Doctors did all they could to keep his heart beating. Finally came the news no one wanted to hear.
“A doctor told Ginny, ‘we’re not going to watch him die’ and sent me to a heart hospital,” Mark said.
His prayers evolved from “Please help me feel better” to “Please don’t let me die.”
He recalls a doctor asking, “Are you ready?”
Thinking it was more tests he said, “Sure.”
“She meant I needed a new heart,” Mark said.
He was put on a transplant list. The thought of waiting on someone else’s heart to keep him alive made him edgy. A team of nurses understood the uncertainty. “They were incredible; they kept me positive.”
Weeks of testing followed, and Mark’s prayers grew in depth and complexity. “I started to feel peace, calmness, chills. I felt Him.”
During the wait, a blood vessel burst in his hip. The transplant was sidelined until he healed.
Navigating Joy and Grief
A week or so later when he was back on the waiting list, despite his heart fading with each beat, Mark’s cardiologist turned down the first available transplant because it was a high-risk-heart.
The night before his fifty-fifth birthday, he “had a feeling.”
“I was laying down, eyes closed, breathing deep, and felt it. I was like ‘Holy Moly, this transplant is going to happen.’” Then, he drifted off to sleep.
The next morning before daybreak, a nurse woke Mark up when she lowered the window blinds nearly all the way. Eyes closed, he sorted through the possibilities he and his family faced.
“All of a sudden, I sense this brightness, open my eyes, and I’m bathed in this gold, orange light,” he said. “It was sunrise reflecting off the building across the street, coming through the small gap in the blinds. I thought ‘That’s weird…’”
Unable to sleep, he grabbed his phone and checked out the daily Bible verse.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” –Ezekiel 36:26
“It took my breath away, I had tears in my eyes. There are 31,000 Bible verses and someone chose that one for that day,” he said.
Mark was thumbing through birthday greetings, getting emotional, when his cardiologist and the lead transplant surgeon stepped into the room.
“They asked what was wrong, and I said it was my birthday. They said, ‘Happy birthday. We have a gift.’”
It was a heart.
“I just crumbled,” Mark said. “I couldn’t speak, so they called Ginny, and I could hear her screaming.”
But in the midst of celebrating his second shot at life, Mark grieved for the donor: a 28-year-old-Texan who’d suffered a brain aneurysm. He’d never have another birthday, never see another Christmas.
Former Chase Oaks Pastor Dan Martin reached out and helped the Urbins realize that this man and his family wanted to bless Mark with a new heart, to bless someone else with lungs to take another breath, someone else with another chance to see.
Wrapping his mind around it that way, Mark’s prayers became outwardly focused, asking for God’s love to shine on the donor’s family and each person who’d be given another chance.
“The night before surgery I was at peace. I knew God was with me, with Ginny, and the kids,” he said.
Waiting for a Miracle
The next morning as he was wheeled into surgery, nurses lined the hallway they’d decorated, cracking jokes, telling him he’d be fine.
Family and friends were in the waiting room. “That was the worst,” Ginny recalls.
Nurses kept her informed via text.
The first at 8:53 a.m. said Mark’s incision had been made and the healthy heart was in the air and on its way.
At 9:13 a.m.: Heart just arrived…Dr said it is small and strong.
Minutes without information dragged like hours. Ginny finally asked, “Is his heart out?”
A two-word-response came at 9:20 a.m. Not yet.
The tension became palpable. So, the Father lightened things up.
Ginny’s phone went off. It was a FaceTime request from surgery. Heart racing, she fired off a response at 9:30 a.m.
Did you just try to FaceTime me?
The nurse reached back just as quick.
Sorry. Butt dialed.
Laughter rippled through the waiting room.
The text at 9:31 a.m. made everyone go quiet.
His heart is out, and a new heart is going in now.
“It was weird, at that moment, he had no heart,” Ginny said. “We held hands and prayed, that’s when I felt the love, other people’s prayers for him.”
Mark was literally heartless, kept alive by a machine. At 10:37 a.m., Ginny’s phone lit up. He was off bypass.
She tapped in a surreal question.
So, heart is in and working?
It was. At that moment, the surgeon was playing California Dreamin’ in the operating room. He watched the heart pulse to the song’s beat as it woke in someone new.
Confronting Another Crisis
Weeks passed and Mark’s body accepted another person’s heart.
“It was a magical time, when he came home,” Ginny said. “Being together, watching movies, talking, going for walks. We were in our own little bubble.”
But walks got shorter. Mark’s strength faded. Tests were run, medicines tweaked, but he got weaker.
During a medical brainstorming session, they realized something. They had never performed a colonoscopy pre-surgery. So, they ordered one last test.
“I wasn’t ready for what they found. I had cancer,” Mark said.
Ginny was in shock. She responded, “It was like, you’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me. How much more can we handle?”
Surgeons removed part of his intestines, and he started chemotherapy. Now, he fights side effects. Stinging arms, tingling fingers, hands that are painfully sensitive to cold, pressure.
Finding Joy in Suffering
Facing cancer and its difficult treatment, Mark felt gut punched, but that gave way to gratitude.
“If they’d have done the colonoscopy before the transplant, they would have found cancer and I wouldn’t have gotten the heart. It would have been a death sentence.”
Because of his new perspective, Mark is joyful. “God blessed me, gave me a second chance, I’m feeling better. All I fell short of before, I won’t again.”
California Dreamin’ now tops his playlist, and he’s embraced a new mantra: “Be thankful for every new day. Let go of hate, anger, anxiety. Be better to friends, family, strangers, yourself. We’re here for a reason.”