Transplant Day Four was a blur. There are no words to adequately describe the volume of information we had to digest just to know how to protect this new kidney. So with all the education we had to learn, both Fred and I are on overload. The pain continues, and hopefully the healing.
But hovering over all the physical and emotional pain are the prayers of the people — my people — my dear friends and family members who are holding hope up high so I can see it. Their love and their compassionate concern is grace for me.
I have few words of my own today, but this prayer shared by Joanna Harader speaks exactly what I need God to hear from me today.
This day may I know
Your health in my body;
Your enlightenment in my mind;
Your grace in my missteps;
Your patience in my frustrations;
Your inspiration where I am stuck
And your tranquility where I need to slow down and rest.
This day may I
Breathe each breath with gratitude,
See each color with wonder,
Hear the hum of the Divine beneath the noise,
Feel your solid presence with each step I take.
Let me live out of your joy
And within your power.
Rev. Joanna Harader serves as pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS, and blogs at SpaciousFaith.com.
It’s not so easy to get a new kidney! The stars truly have to align. On top of that, I have to be ready to move up and move out on short notice. Kidney transplants — securely scheduled and marked definitively on official calendars — can always go awry.
So it is with my scheduled November 15th transplant. It simply fell apart due to one or more of the snafus that can always occur. So we’re off. And we’re on! The word is that the transplant may be scheduled even before the 15th. Or maybe not. But be ready to go!
And that absolute and unambiguous word from Mayo Clinic this morning reminded me of the wondrous Dr. Suess book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Of course, being on the ready to go to Mayo, I just had to look back at that book and recall some of its infinite wisdom. Turns out, some of it so fully describes my five-year acquaintance with end stage kidney disease.
So here are some snippets that tell my story, oh, so well:
I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
can happen to you.
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. but mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!
Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. Oh! The places you’ll go!
I have said many times that so many of you, my friends and family nearby and far away, have covered me with the grace to move forward even when I hesitated. Because of your prayers, positive thoughts and constant encouragement, I am ready to go!
And so it is with confidence and hope that I can exclaim! “Oh! The places I’ll go!” And though I am inspired by the writing of Dr. Suess, it is through and through theological and Biblical!
Thank you all, and thanks be to God.
On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant as early as November 6th. 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:
A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributionto 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:
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)
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:
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:
On May 17th, I received some devastating news from Piedmont Transplant Center in Atlanta where I had been four years on the transplant list for a kidney. They abruptly placed me on the inactive list, which meant they would no longer be working to match a kidney for me. I was devastated. My friend told me recently that she feared I would give up on the process, but instead she watched me gather up my courage and move forward.
There’s a reason for that, something that empowered me to find another route on the journey that would eventually lead to a transplant. The reason? I call it surrounded by love and all that goes with that kind of love. I found it, I think, at a meeting of Baptist women ministers held at my house on May 17th. After the news from Piedmont, the last thing I felt like doing was hosting a gathering. But they came, a group of women I didn’t really know so well. One of them was a close and trusted friend. The others were friends I needed to know better.
As we enjoyed one another’s company, I avoided talking about my disheartening news, but eventually someone asked about my progress toward a transplant. I could have responded by sobbing uncontrollably. I could have simply said that the process toward a transplant is ongoing. Instead I took a deep breath and gave them the details.
Now you must know that each one of them is a trained and gifted minister, so they knew what to say and how to say it. But the end of the conversation caught me completely off guard. Everyone stood and they created a huddle with me in the middle. It was a hugging huddle — one big, comforting hug. Those moments were comforting, empowering, encouraging, full of grace. My friends mothered me and then they prayed for me, each one.
In those moments I was surrounded by love that has grown deeper with the passing days. From that huddle I was graced with the will to go on, and I did. On November 15, if all goes well, I am scheduled for a transplant at Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic.
All because I was surrounded by love, a love that I know will not let me go.
Most people don’t really like waiting. Being stopped at one of those very long red lights can be frustrating. Waiting your turn in the grocery line is trying on the more impatient among us. Waiting for a wisp of autumn in the south — when it’s 100 degrees in late September — is particularly exasperating. But these are trivial waiting experiences.
There are persons who are waiting today for a diagnosis from their doctor. Students wait for results from important tests, hoping to at least get a passing grade. Others wait at the bedside of an elderly parent, hoping for and dreading that last breath. These are serious seasons of waiting, life-changing experiences of waiting.
There is at least one more example of waiting — the one I’m experiencing today. My waiting is an exciting, joyful waiting for the car full of my grandchildren to pull up in our driveway. I seldom get to see them, or my son, since they live 11 hours away in Little Rock, Arkansas. So this is a special waiting time. Today I’m waiting expectantly, joyfully, gleefully for my family. It’s the best kind of waiting.
These days whenever I ponder what it means to wait, my thoughts go immediately to my five years of waiting for a life-altering kidney transplant. In these years, my teacher has been faith and my lesson has been patience. I have managed to develop an abundance of patience that has served me in every area of my life.
Patience has not always been one of my strongest character traits, though. I used to have very little patience, and that reality led me to some very raucous encounters with other people. As a victim advocate, I was very trying on judges — to my detriment. As a hospital chaplain, I was insistent when a patient’s medication was delayed. I could cite many examples of my impatience causing upheaval.
Which leads me to my memories of Ethel. I will never forget Ethel — my parishioner, my friend, my sister, my mother — the one person who was loyal to me and protective of me to a fault. To Ethel, it seemed I could do no wrong. She was wrong about that, of course.
Ethel was with me during the difficult time when my church refused my request for ordination. For six months they refused in every way that could hurt me. Ethel was in my corner through every pain-filled business meeting, including the final one that sealed the church’s decision to decline the opportunity to ordain the first Baptist woman in Arkansas.
I was impatiently devastated and saw no way toward ordination or toward the continuation of my ministry as a chaplain. I was “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” that had seen what I had endured from my church. They lifted me up with their prayers and their constant encouragement. Ethel, however, did more than pray for and encourage me. In the midst of holding my pain with me, Ethel brought up the important fact that I needed to learn patience. Ethel loved me enough to be honest, and so with Bible in hand, she gave me this gift:
For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3 NASB)
Wait for it, Ethel insisted, with a faith that knew exactly how to insist.
Wait for it!
She was right, as always.
So that is my personal experience of learning how to wait. It was a life lesson I needed to learn. And I did learn it (sort of). In the end, I did not become the first Baptist woman ordained in Arkansas, but I did become the first woman in Arkansas to serve as the pastor of a Baptist church. What a surprise from a constantly surprising God who did not intend for me to be a hospital chaplain, but instead led me into a nine-year ministry of being a pastor.
Today, though, I am just waiting for my beautiful grandchildren.
That’s the best surprise of all!
On another note, please pray for me as I wait for my kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my journey at the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website, please visit this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please make a contribution at this link:
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.
In this frenetic and fractured world, we can use all the comfort and assurance we can get. We want to know that everything’s going to be alright. We want to know that we will be alright. And we want to know that the people we love will be alright. Yet, these are things we cannot know, not really.
While we cannot have knowledge, we can have faith. Scripture offers us so many promises of care and protection:
“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
(2 Corinthians 4:9)
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; she will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
“The Lord will keep you from all harm; she will watch over your life; The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8)
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.” ( Psalm 56:8)
What a gift that we have faith and friends! I never minimize the care and comfort I receive from my friends, the many ways they offer blessings on my life. Sometimes a kind word from a friend far away brings me deep comfort just when I need it most. Sometimes a phone call from a friend, just to check on me, feels like the warmth of the sun. Sometimes one of my doctors will know exactly what to say to ease my concerns. And so often one of my dialysis nurses hones in on a worry that’s just underneath the surface and helps me bring it to the light that begins a healing process. Caring friends — and family — are most definitely grace gifts from God.
The truth is that we do not have to bear our burdens alone. Faith gives us the awareness of a God who cares and comforts. The promises of Scripture are not merely words on a page. They are messages of hope that we can hold onto when nights are long and frightening.
So faith brings us hope and comfort from a caring God who knows what is in our hearts. And life’s journey brings us friends willing to walk with us. It is not unusual for a friend to know intuitively when I really need to hear a comforting word. When that happens, our conversation often results in tears, probably tears that I had held back in an effort to “be strong.” My friends show me, in so many ways, that I don’t have to be strong and that I can just “be.” When we talk, I feel that lump in my throat that is both an awareness of a hurt I’ve been holding onto and a response of gratitude for a friend who truly cares.
Mine is a lonely road on a journey of one.
To be sure, I have a dear, dear life partner
And a family
Friends all over the world.
Yet, I am making this journey all by myself.
All around me, friends are working, vacationing, writing, preaching
All those things I long to do
Simple things, but out of my reach.
In the meantime, I am dialyzing for hours every day
Willing myself to eat less, much less
Focusing on healthy
Exercising through pain
And waiting for a kidney transplant.
Friends are still working, vacationing, writing, preaching
All those things I long to do, still out of my reach.
Waiting for an organ transplant is lonely.
No one I know is doing the same thing.
But everyone knows someone who had one
Or did poorly
Or maybe they even did great
But I never hear much about them.
Waiting for an organ transplant is lonely.
I cannot help but second-guess myself
Why the risk?
A Good decision about a dangerous thing takes time
Info rattles around in your head for a while
Moves on as it discerns the rhythm of your spirit
Then listens for the whisper of God
And at last finds its rest in your heart
And then you know.
Friends are still working, vacationing, writing, preaching
All those things out of my reach.
They stop their busyness long enough to give me counsel
Everyone knows someone who had a transplant
Or did poorly
And so they tell me that
With all the medical details they know
And mostly they don’t know
But I am holding the good decision in my heart
The right decision
The one with all the risks
Just like life
Full of risks.
Mine is a lonely road.
But I am ennobled to move forward in good hope
My mustard seed faith is enough
I leave them in the dust
All those who are working, vacationing, writing, preaching
All those things out of my reach.
I leave them in the dust
All those who knew someone who had a transplant
Because I am not moving toward death.
I am moving toward life
Tucked away in my memory, there is a charming tale of a young boy. I’m not sure from where I remember the story, but I have known a few versions of it for many years. It’s one of my favorite parables. The story introduces us to young Peter, who grew up in a very poor family. Peter loved going to school and playing with his schoolmates.
On one particular school day, Peter noticed that his friends were laughing and chattering with excitement about the masquerade ball that was the yearly highlight of the town festival.
“I cannot wait for the ball,” Suzanne said excitedly. “I shall wear a beautiful costume of indigo silk, with a mask to match it.”
William said, “l’m wearing red, a bright shiny red.”
And Victoria gave every detail of the gown of purple velvet her mother was sewing.
One after another, the excited children described the colorful costumes their mothers would make for them — green, purple, orange, yellow, pink, gold, silver. They told of the fine fabrics their fathers had purchased on their travels. Every mother had set aside the fabric for just this occasion.
One of the children noticed that Peter was not joining in on the gleeful conversation and walked up to him.
“Peter, what will you be wearing to the festival?” she asked.
“I’m not going to the festival,” Peter said, “I do not have fine clothes to wear and my family cannot buy cloth for a costume.”
“But you must come, Peter,” another friend said. And then others joined in.
Their mood changed from gladness to sadness, and since it was now a sad and somber time for Peter, he slowly started walking toward home.
After he left, the children talked among themselves, wondering what they could do to help Peter get to the festival. William, who had been thinking through the dilemma, finally spoke out.
“I know! I don’t need so much cloth for my costume,” William said. “I can cut a small piece from my costume and give it to Peter. Perhaps his mother can sew it into something grand.”
“Yes! I can do that too,” said another. And then another, until all the children joined in. So they devised a plan to help Peter get to the festival ball.
The next day William arrived at school with a twinkle in his eye. In fact, all the children had twinkles in their eyes as they went to find Peter. Each friend brought to Peter a small scrap of cloth they had torn from their costumes. One after another, they gave Peter pieces of cloth of every shape and size. Small scraps snd larger pieces, blue, red, yellow and purple — every color you could think of really.
Peter was speechless, and if one looked closely, they might have seen a tear slide down his cheek. Peter took all the little pieces of cloth to his mother, who would take the scraps and do her magic with needle and thread.
The special day finally came, and the happy children arrived, each clothed in a bright, beautifully colored costume. When Peter arrived, no one recognized him at first, but there was a collective gasp in the room. He entered the room, tall and proud, wearing a black mask and a multi-colored, diamond patterned costume.
Who was this person?
It was Peter, they finally realized, in amazement!
“Look at the beautiful red on his costume. It’s the same color as what I’m wearing!”
Another child said, “There’s part of mine!”
And each of Peter’s friends shrieked with happiness when they saw their own pieces of cloth cut into diamond shapes and sewn together on his costume. It was stunning — from the gold brocade, to the shimmering red satin, to the verdant hue of the green taffeta, to the sparkle of the royal blue silk. All the children were happy about what they were wearing, but they were even happier about the small piece of cloth they had shared with Peter.
Peter thanked them, having to speak very loudly to be heard over their happy exclamations.
“Everyone is happy tonight,” Peter said, “but I am the happiest one of all, because I am clothed in the love of my friends!”
From that day forward, Peter’s friends called him “Harlequin.” And that’s the tale of how Harlequin came to be.
So what does this little tale have to do with anything. Last week, I happened to pick up a fluffy, white blanket that’s in our extra bedroom. I held it and remembered that my friend had brought it to me in the hospital when I was so sick. Her church had prayed over the blanket in a church service and sent it to me with love. I was in bed for a long time, and each time someone covered me with the blanket, I thought of the echoes of the prayers it held and the love of the friends who sent it to me. Like Harlequin, I was clothed in the love of my friends.
As I wait on a possible kidney transplant and wonder whether or not a transplant will be in my future, the one thing that comforts me is the love of my friends. The truth is that I am covered with an abundance of love. My friends from from all over the world are praying for me, breathing prayers for my well-being and my health, offering me “colorful pieces of fine cloth” in the whispered blessings they send to me.
Last night, the depth of caring that friendship can offer became very clear to me when I received an incredible message from a friend of many years. The message was that he had begun the process of donating a kidney for me. Stunned by his announcement, emotions tender, I remembered all over again that I am clothed in the love of my friends.
I have always thought of Lent as a spiritual journey we take alone, a solitary season of introspection and self-reflection during which we contemplate our own spiritual well-being and our relationship with God. For me, Lent has always been alone work. But what if it wasn’t? Suppose I experienced Lent with my community — the close community of people with whom I share my spiritual life.
I cannot help but recall the story of Jephthah’s daughter as told in Judges 11. When she faces a terrible crisis that will result in her death at the hands of her father, she makes only one request of her father. “Do what you must do, only grant me this one request: Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my sisters.”
So she will take this journey up into the hills with her sisters — to mourn, to reflect, to pray. She will not make this journey alone. She makes the journey with the sisters who surrounded her in life and now in death. They climb up into the hills together.
Lent’s forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. He was there alone, and most often the Lenten journey is a time for reflecting alone. But I think that perhaps there is spiritual benefit in making a Lenten journey together, in community, joining together through invisible rhythms of friendship and caring.
As I make my Lenten journey this year, in my mind I will take my community with me. There into my alone places where God comforts me in my contemplative moments, in my repentance and in my penitence, I will be more mindful this Lent of my spiritual circle of friends. I will make a covenant with them in my mind and heart. I will send them positive thoughts as they make their Lenten journey and I will pray for them intentionally and faithfully.
It will be a together Lent, inspired by the sisters who went into the hills with Jephthah’s daughter where they spent a season of grief in community, together.
I hope that, together, we might embrace a sense of community as one of our Lenten spiritual disciplines, that we might journey together for these forty days, praying for one another, seeking together the serenity, the reflection and the transformation of Lent.
In that spirit of prayer, I leave with you this beautiful prayer written by Rabbi Naomi Levy:
The rabbi in me would like to offer a prayer for you.
I pray you will learn to see you life as a meaningful story.
I pray you will learn to listen to your soul’s insistent yearning.
I pray you will learn to believe you can transform your life.
I pray you will learn to live and shine inside your imperfect life
and find meaning and joy right where you are.
Most of all I pray you will uncover a great miracle: your extra-ordinary life.