What is a miracle?

is it something improbable or impossible?

My line of work is in investments. I lean into history, try to learn from it, and use it to understand probable outcomes in the future. There is no way to know for sure if there is going to be a recession or if the current state of high inflation will be persistent. We can take the variables from the past with the understanding that the current situation also has new considerations, and apply them to understand the probability of different outcomes to set reasonable expectations.

Whew, okay, done with the shop talk. Why did I just write all that? Because anticipating a range of possible outcomes and understanding their probabilities is at the core of what I do all day, every day. So when I think about what happened to Jeff, I marvel at the extremely slim probability of the final outcome. Truly a far out “tail event” in statistical speak. And I’m not just talking about that giant clot that ultimately saved his life (and yes, that in itself was a tail event!). I am talking about the probability of a string of decisions and developments that had to occur precisely in such a way that we could get Jeff the help he needed just in time for him to live. And I want to string them together to paint a picture of this unlikely outcome and why we feel that it was God’s hand guiding us, both in decisions we didn’t know we were making towards this favorable outcome, and in things that were completely out of our control, but in God’s brilliant design.

After Christmas of 2020, Jeff said to me in passing that he sometimes drives around the town of Bath (Ohio) and looks at different houses. We lived in Richfield at the time in a wonderful home that we built in 2013, and frankly, we thought we would live there for a very long time. What Jeff didn’t know was that Maris and I had also been exploring Bath while driving to and from various nature trails in Northeast Ohio. Both Jeff and I (and Maris, haha) love nature and quaint living environment. Richfield already has that (we had 2 acres of woods), but after being cooped up at home during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were ready for a change.

The problem was that there was no home that would work for us for sale in Bath. So we expanded our search to different parts of NE Ohio, actively trying to avoid the busy-ness of Cuyahoga County and the urban feel of the “East Side.” After many weeks of doing this, Jeff found something on Zillow… it was a home in the county we were actually trying to avoid, but the house was right. The design was right. the size was right. It was a model home, so after meeting with the builder, we decided to buy and finish a partially built house that was not even in the location of our original intent. What we came to realize was that our desire to live in a quaint environment spoke to our internal poets but did not jive with the busy schedules we kept. We came to love the idea. We sold our home in Richfield, finished the new house, and moved in on June 28th of 2021.

What we didn’t think significant at the time was just how close the neighborhood was to Hillcrest Hospital (the Cleveland Clinic). Eight minutes by car, if you’re just leisurely driving and hitting lights. I could shave off two minutes if I’m speeding a bit and with green lights. During the fall of 2021, I really learned the ins and outs of getting to the hospital because I had to get a lumpectomy (don’t worry, the tumor was benign and it was out of precaution), and then I had multiple appointments afterwards due to not serious but strange complications. Back and forth, back and forth. The thing is that I am really bad with roads and have no sense of direction. Now I look back and realize that God was perhaps making me practice driving the fastest route confidently for when it really came to matter.

When I think about it, that move was a crucial component to Jeff’s survival. If we had still lived in Richfield, I know that I would have probably taken him to a more remote ER. They would have had to transport him to either the Main Campus of the Cleveland Clinic or to Hillcrest anyway, and it would have just delayed everything. This was a decision made for unrelated reasons that proved to be so crucial.

There were other choices that were made for unrelated reasons that proved to be vital in the succession of events. Me working from home, randomly deciding to work in the living room instead of my home office that allowed me to notice that something was off; canceling the morning meetings because everyone was on top of things but it freed me to take Jeff to the ER; Or even taking Jeff to the ER because I thought it might be a kidney stone, but of course, it turned out to be something much more serious. These were decisions made without deep insight, and I cannot tell you that I had some sort of hunch or a feeling that I had to do these things.

And then there were things out of our control. The aneurysm had been there for many years that it grew to be the size of a baseball – it really could have burst at any time. When the aneurysm started to dissect, it didn’t happen all at once – it happened in small tears, which meant that blood started to leak out slowly, giving it time to actually clot and plug the hole. Again and again for nearly a week. And the fateful moment when the dissection became untenable, it happened during the day when I was home. If that dissection took place a few hours later in the evening, Jeff would have been driving a 3 hour road trip to Bowling Green, probably on I-90 West, alone in the car, far from the world class healthcare available at the Cleveland Clinic. That the aorta decided to rupture during that small window of time… we do not view that timing as a lucky coincidence.

When we think about how easily that clot/plug could have come undone, it sends chills down my spine. We had used a vibrating massager on Jeff’s back when we thought he twisted a muscle (yikes!)… that was a really bad thing to do to the aneurysm! What about the violent vomiting? Every time he lurched forward to throw up, the clot could have dislodged. And of course, further delay would have also meant that the outcome could be different.

All these things had to work together and with right timing. The clot itself was of course, statistically unlikely. A tail event. A black swan event (but with a positive connotation). But also at each decision point, when we thought we were making decisions that were independent of each other, it turned out that there was this beautiful design to how they were actually related… and each played a small but important role in contributing to Jeff’s survival. And in some of those decision nodes, we actually made the unlikely, less probabilistic choice based on our original intent. For those of you who have calculated the probabilities of multiple events and outcomes, you know that when you have multiple unlikely events stringed together, you end up with a really really low probability.

So, okay. Something with a low probability, even if the odds are only 0.000001% in your favor, is technically possible. So is it really a miracle? Isn’t miracle something impossible becoming possible? like turning water into wine? This is where I have to stop thinking with my head and listen with my heart. This is where I don’t want to lose perspective, the meaning of the big picture, the opportunity to experience God’s grace… all because of some technical point. When something happens, which in turn changes your perspective on life, brings more love between two people, and brings us closer to God, I consider that in itself a miracle. No matter how high the probability. And maybe it had to take such a tail event to pound through my data-driven, rational skull that only God can string events together, move hearts and minds, and put us in right places in order to bring us outcomes that are inconceivable to our human imagination. Furthermore, that we, as rational beings, would choose to accept this outcome not as low probabilistic “luck” but as God making His presence firmly known in those moments, that we should choose to see it as God’s grace, as His love, and as His gift to us… that in itself is the greatest miracle for me.

Sunrise: a daily “miracle” that lifts my spirits!
Marriage: a miracle of two very different people spending a lifetime together

One thought on “What is a miracle?”

  1. I love that you can trace the anatomy of this miracle and see how it defies more than just statistics (but God knew you would especially appreciate the statistical improbability)! You’re right that miracles occurred here on multiple levels, all seemingly coordinated by the hand of God for His design and purpose in your lives. So beautiful how you say that the greatest miracle is perhaps God making Himself known to you guys and you recognizing and receiving that as a gift! That’s what gives this particular miracle eternal impact!


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