Nearer, Still Nearer

A4824C25-A897-4AFB-BC7C-31E547F84EBA

Transplant Day Seventeen
November 28, 2019

Sometimes an old hymn — a hymn the contemporary church has discarded from its worship — can eloquently speak to the heart. There are many hymns I call hymns of the heart because they touch me so deeply. In these days of recovery when I find myself away from home and separated from friends and family, a particular old hymn comforts me. One line specifically inspires and moves me — “Shelter me safe in that haven of rest.”

The hymn, “Nearer, Still Nearer” was written by Lelia N. Morris and published in 1898. Here are two stanzas of the hymn text.

Nearer, still nearer, close to Thy heart,
Draw me, my Savior — so precious Thou art!
Fold me, oh, fold me close to Thy breast;
Shelter me safe in that haven of rest;
Shelter me safe in that haven of rest.

Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last,
Till safe in glory my anchor is cast;
Through endless ages ever to be
Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee;
Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee!

Finding myself away from my communities of support, I feel the separation acutely. I feel the loneliness of “apart” time. I feel a breach of relationship and the loss of my covenant community. I know it is necessary to be near Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida for this month so that the transplant team can closely monitor my care. But I miss my home and my faith community and my friends and family, and even my stray cat. I feel isolated at a time when I most need their support and encouragement. And although I strongly feel their prayers from afar, the “afar” part is not so great. I feel vulnerable and I need to feel nearer to my people.

So this hymn that expresses nearness to God is for me a timely expression of my faith and a picture of my current reality. In your contemplative time today, may you be inspired by listening to this beautiful hymn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCF2D98szaU

 

 

—————————————————
“Nearer, Still Nearer”
Lelia N. Morris, pub.1898
Copyright status is Public Domain

Stitched Together

D0DA5173-6C60-48B0-93E5-2D67BA81DBE8
At the moment, I am literally stitched together after a kidney transplant. I know everyone likes to tell how many stitches they have, but I can’t give you that detail because I can’t see my incision well enough to count them. It’s just as well. Those stitches don’t matter all that much. They certainly don’t matter as much as being stitched together by song lyrics, book quotes, adventures . . . and moonlight. What matters most is that I am pieces of all the places I have been and all the people I have loved.

For my Sabbath yesterday, I played hymns on Pandora. As I listened for hours, I heard music that reminded me of places I have been over the years, from the single traffic light in Reform, Alabama to the rugged beauty of the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda, East Africa. And I heard hymn texts that reminded me of people I have loved, from beloved seminary professors to people I served as pastor. I sang along much of the time, singing hymn texts that ranged from “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” to “I’ll Fly Away,” and everything in between.

The hymns portrayed the story of my faith with Gospel songs that marked my conversion and my early years to the Great Hymns of the Church that expressed my faith in my later years. I could see myself singing in many different choirs, as a pastor leading congregational singing, as a worship leader at national gatherings, as a missionary in a mud hut and even as a teenager sitting on the back row of the church, inappropriately close to my boyfriend.

Each hymn I heard yesterday reminded me of those times and told the story of my faith journey. Indeed, I envisioned myself as one who truly is pieces of the places I’ve been and the people I have loved along the way. For at least a few hours, I was able to lay aside my physical pain, forget about my surgical stitches and give thanks that I am stitched together by hymns and people and adventures and hope on my journey of faith.

Being a part of a community of faith is one of God’s gifts to us, stitched together with sacred threads that remind us continually who we are. Being stitched together as a faith community is beautifully described in this passage from the book of Acts.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

— Acts 2:42-47

Interesting — and one of God’s very special gifts — that when we are stitched together, we discover that we are whole.

Spiritual Direction

E82BA236-43E0-4EDA-B57B-4E7F6E31779A
Transplant Day Thirteen
November 24, 2019

I have been offered a blessing. From a stranger. 

I met this kind person through a group of clergywomen called RevGalBlogPals. She is a spiritual director from British Columbia. Through the RevGalBlogPals Facebook group, she happened upon parts of my transplant journey in my blog posts. She began praying for me. Then she offered me the gift of spiritual direction as I pass through this complicated time in my life. 

9299C4C7-3373-43D8-A11E-C2349150F942It has been several years since I worked with a spiritual director, so I was very humbled and thankful to hear from her. These were the words of lovingkindness she wrote to me in our first session.

May you feel the gentle touch of Spirit in this session.
May you know that I am holding you in healing Love.
May you be reminded of your worth and strength…
As you rest.
~ This is spiritual direction when pain does not allow for words.

Burning BushOn the day I received her message, it was so true that pain did not allow for words. The assault on my body was unspeakable on that day. I remember when many years ago my husband’s cardiologist came into his hospital room a few days after his heart surgery. The cardiologist said this: “Let’s look at this terrible thing we’ve done to you.”

His words resonated with me post transplant when, in the throes of struggle and pain, I definitely was looking at the terrible thing they had done to me. I could not quite see a brighter, pain-free future. I could only focus on the physical systems that were in complete disarray after the transplant. It did not help when medical staff told me it was all normal. The way I was experiencing it all was far from normal.

I wondered if I would ever live “normal” again. Or if perhaps I would live into a new normal of life after receiving a transplanted organ. I was not sure, and definitely not confident, that all systems would levelize into something I could tolerate. My spiritual director’s wisdom knows that to have physical normalcy, I must also seek emotional and spiritual normalcy. That would mean healing wholly — from the outer visible body to the inner invisible one. It would mean transformation. It would mean living my life while watching constantly and diligently for any sign that something was physically wrong.

Red Wooden Directional Arrow Signs In Green Forest BackgroundWhen my spiritual director suddenly appeared, I knew that she would help me explore my spiritual state, entering into community with me and pointing to the healing I could not yet see.


Thanks be to God for the beloved community she has offered me, community that forms in unexpected places, in unexpected times, just when I needed community the most.

A Million Seconds

0A265C1F-2FB5-49A6-95D1-6CB6E1E3AB12
Transplant Day Twelve
November 23, 2019

I have just reached a milestone — a million seconds. My kidney transplant started the clock on Tuesday, November 12, 2019. Today it is a million seconds later. I will remember those million seconds as a time of fear and faith, laughter and tears, rest and painful sleeplessness. I will remember a million seconds filled with hard things, the pain of a large incision spreading halfway across my abdomen, and swallowing pills, lots of pills.

I may one day see those million seconds as hidden secrets, secrets hidden from me by pain and by my body’s struggle to regain some normalcy. I may in time look at those million seconds with glittering eyes and see them as the magic they were. But today I can just share with you what I experienced in a million seconds that began on a Tuesday — November 12th to be exact.

I will remember a million seconds of so many strange things happening to my body and the numerous assaults my body endured. I will remember a million seconds of awe in knowing that a kidney was removed from a living donor at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and hand carried by a doctor to me, to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida — a  distance of 1,115 miles “as the crow flies.”

I will remember a million seconds that began when my surgeon took a picture of the kidney, brought the photo on her phone to my room to show it to me, and said, “This is a beautiful, perfect kidney for you.” She planted that kidney, tucked it carefully inside me, took a photo of the incision and about five hours later came to my room to show me a picture she took on her iPhone of a large incision, impeccably sutured.

I will not forget those million seconds of the prayers of my friends, doctors and nurses caring for me and family members hovering over me with concern and relief.

I will not forget the hymn that came to my mind in the long, sleepless nights in the hospital — a million seconds of leaning on God’s everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

A million seconds have changed my life, while all the while, I was leaning on the everlasting arms. It was a million seconds of holy ground, sacred space. Yet I hardly noticed it as magic or miracle as the pain of my humanity took center stage.

Yes, I focused on suffering, physical pain, worry, concern, tears. Instead, I might have focused on the hidden secrets and witnessed the miracle of holy ground inside a hospital room. I could have had a million seconds of miracle, but instead I experienced a million seconds of the raw and real humanity of suffering. In some ways, a million seconds of transformation were lost to me as I invited unfaith into my room.

And by the way, a million seconds is 12 days.

On Beauty and Terror

C32F3609-3C34-4205-A88A-7EAF8178F181

Photo by Steven Nawojczyk.

Life is all about beauty and terror, each descending on us at will and rearranging everything. I think of the wise words of Frederick Buechner:

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

The constant picture in my mind is a rough, rocky path with unknown crooks and turns,  and the destination unseen. That image of life’s journey is enough to cause anyone fear, and though the path has its own beauty, it also holds the terror of unexpected twists on a rocky way.

For quite a long time, I have been facing a time of beauty and terror in the guise of my upcoming kidney transplant. How beautiful it is to know that a kidney donor is willingly offering a kidney to a stranger. At the same time, I nurse a small feeling of terror at times about the outcome of the surgery. Will I have pain? Will I recover quickly? Will the kidney work? Will I tolerate my lifelong immunosuppressant medications? Will the transplant really happen?

“Don’t be afraid” is indeed the strongest and best word of encouragement. It is quite wonderful when we reach a point in life — if ever we do — where fear is no longer our constant companion. The way to get there, I think, has everything to do with two things: enjoying a close relationship with God (something that is not always easy to accomplish); and being a part of a genuine, caring community. Being close to God and being encouraged by your community keeps fear at bay so that the beautiful part of living can emerge.

Richard Rohr would say that our “work” is to know God’s desire for us to live into the fullness of our humanity and our identity. In other words, recognize that our humanity is certainly open to fear, but be vigilant about claiming our identity as God’s own children. Because it is that identity, that holy relationship with God, that brings us the beautiful part of life.

Richard Rohr shares the words of one of his favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror,” the poet writes. This is surely the poetry of life: to admonish us to let it all happen, all the beauty, all the terror. Because God uses all of it, together, to create in me the person I am meant to be.

So the end of the story is this: I will get a transplant and I will let it all happen — all of it — so that the beauty and the terror can renew my life and embolden my spirit.

 

 

F9FA5D3C-53F0-4043-8A72-F9E2D63F7349

On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant on November 15th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

“Go Fund Me” page is set up for contribution to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

 

 

“Always Stay Humble and Kind”

0435A7FB-18AC-4222-A445-B6B10556EC50
Even the earth’s creatures find ways to get along. Refusing to follow the lovely example of the giraffe and the butterfly, we seem to be having a big problem with getting along. Now we have to admit that the giraffe and the butterfly could not be more different from each other, but somehow the butterfly lands safely on the giraffe’s snout. It’s a reminder of the image we have loved for so long — the lion lying down with the lamb — a symbol of peaceful times.

We do not typically have that kind of peaceful relationship with those who are not like us, and in these days, we do not enjoy peaceful times. It’s nothing new, really, but we are infinitely aware that our country is polarized along partisan lines. Neither side trusts the other. Respect for one another is flagging. Kindness is in short supply. 

But this is not a commentary on current politics. Instead, I want to talk about being humble and kind to one another. One of my favorite singers, Tim McGraw, sings the song “Humble and Kind,” a gentle, sweet song written by Lori McKenna. The song’s simple lyrics remind me that kindness still exists.

Hold the door, say please, say thank you;
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie;
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind.

When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you,
When the work you put in is realized,
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind.

Go to church ’cause your momma says to,
Visit grandpa every chance that you can,
It won’t be a waste of time,
Always stay humble and kind.

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re going.
Don’t forget turn back around,
Help the next one in line,
Always stay humble and kind.

I have to ask myself what I must change about my life in order to be more humble and kind. What must happen within me to enable me to offer unconditional grace to others? I almost feel ashamed that I need to ask myself such questions, but the truth is that any person can be socialized by her environment. If I constantly watch on my television the cynical, disrespectful actions of one person towards another, that exposure might well affect the way I relate to others. I’m sad to admit that the toxic political environment we live in has definitely harmed my relationship with several friends. and I find that unacceptable. 

Where was my sense of loyalty to my friends? Was there no way to maintain respectful relationships and friendships? Could I not have offered grace to my friends? Didn’t my friends mean more to me than my ideology?

I have wrestled with such questions for months. I have concluded a few realities: that I did not have the power to change the toxicity of my environment; that I could not control the emotions and actions of my friends; that I could not force communication with friends who stood steadfastly, even stubbornly, on their own beliefs.

What I could have done was pray more, spend more contemplative time with God and focus on the respectful and kind relationships I can see all around me. In short, I could have immersed myself in all things good, in the peaceful beauty of God’s creation and in the miraculous movement of the universe to unite all things in love.

I did not do that, but after months of experiencing all manner of rancor, I think it’s time for me to find in myself transformative grace through spiritual immersion, the kind of spiritual contemplation that changes everything. And by the way, I have it on good authority that always being humble and kind can be spiritually transforming. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

— Romans 12:2 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

 

 

 

F9FA5D3C-53F0-4043-8A72-F9E2D63F7349

On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant on November 15th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

 

 

 

All Because of the Stories

9B0410BB-65D0-4A15-82BC-F05226DB1028

Telling our stories is one of the most sacred things we do. I am reminded of that as I enjoy my church’s annual women’s retreat on St. Simon’s Island. Now understand this: being on an island means sun and breezes, ocean waves, white sand and palm trees. So the physical environment of this retreat is very conducive to re-creating. On top of that, our sessions have focused our thoughts on knowing ourselves and finding the peace that comes from mindfulness and balance.

But at lunch today with three of the women, I rediscovered the power of our stories as we each told about vivid snippets of our lives and histories. One person commented that we might never have known these things about each other by just greeting one another in church. She was so right! The retreat gave us the gift of safe space in which to tell our stories.

All four of us delighted in the stories the others told. Each of us grew in our own spirituality as we told one another things about our faith. We shared our dreams. One shared her 15-year plan. Another shared her hopes for the year ahead. Two of us shared parts of life past, as the other two celebrated us.

We shared some pain, too, and some loss. We shared times of disappointment and times of plain old survival. We shared stories that brought laughter to the lunch table. We shared communion, in a way, when we created community — a safe community for sharing some of the experiences that brought such meaning to our lives.

We spoke and we listened. We told our stories, each voice around the table willing to be vulnerable enough to share their lives. There was power in the telling. And then there was another kind of power in the listening.

Each of us — just the four of us — were enriched, emboldened, supported and celebrated in the brief lunch activity of hearing one another’s story.

For today at least, four strangers became friends — all because of the stories.