I have been reflecting on a phrase I read this morning in Father Richard Rohr’s meditation— Uncreated Grace. It is an intriguing phrase and makes me wonder why I received it at this particular time and place on my journey. I have had a very long journey — many miles of life —- and, in fact, there have been many other forks on the path that seem more sacred places to contemplate uncreated grace. But here it is, today, brought to me at this place on my journey.
As I did some processing on this phrase, I thought of one of my dear friends from ages past, seminary days to be exact. Often, he would share his favorite quotes. This was one of them, an intriguing and thought-provoking quote. This quote always stayed in his favorites file. It hints at a long journey we all must take . . .
We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
— T. S. Eliot
We were always left with the question “What do T.S Eliot’s words mean?” Sitting in small groups, the seminarians discussed but never reached an answer, to the question. I imagine that, like me, some of them took the words along with them on their journeys, hoping to discover the meaning at some place of enlightenment on their path.
On my journey, Eliot’s words came to mind many times. Never quite discovering a finite meaning, I did discover infinite applications that touched my life in ways simple and profound. Most always, I came away from reflecting on the words to a better place inside myself and a better space in my world. Still, I wonder why these T.S. Eliot words were brought to my mind today.
The power in these words, I think, is that they are not a directive, not a call to mission, not words of piety, not gleaned from scripture. They are words meant to be understood individually rather than offering a universal message. I identify these words as an invitation, and so today I am left alone with them to intentionally create space for reflection and understanding.
When I do that, I hear many, many other words from different places — from scripture, hymn, poetry, prose and from within myself. It feels like a Spirit encounter, the presence of “another comforter” who will be with us forever, who will, as Jesus promised, “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
Spirit teaches us and helps us remember. Spirit grounds us so that our circuitous journey will not frighten us. We are free to never “cease from exploration,” because we are comforted to know that we will “arrive where we started . . .”
And know the place for the first time . . .
When the journey leads us back to where we started, how is it that we “know the place for the first time?” I urge you to not take my interpretation as the correct one, because I believe that a “correct” interpretation comes from the soul of each person who chooses to explore. But here is an understanding based on my own musings . . . we can take what comes in our lives, or we can explore places on the journey — our encounters, our joys and sorrows, our events and calamities, our crises and emotions, our disappointments and betrayals, the chance and the wonder.
For me, there is no doubt that exploring all of these life events brings that sense of getting back to the beginning and truly knowing the place for the first time, not necessarily because the beginning place has changed, but that I have changed. The Spirit’s holy breath transformed me with gentleness again and again, transformed by the blowing of Spirit wind into my being.
Father Richard Rohr says that “the Holy Spirit is never created by our actions or behavior. It is naturally indwelling, our inner being with God. In Catholic theology, we called the Holy Spirit “Uncreated Grace.”
How I love those words . . . Uncreated Grace! Perhaps that’s what we all hope for in our explorations on the journey — that in us and through us, there is Uncreated Grace. If we present to the Spirit our selves as uncreated grace, I wonder if Spirit then creates grace within us again and again and again, all along the way. If we never cease from exploration, presenting ourselves as uncreated grace, the Holy Spirit will breathe on us and we will be transformed!
No wonder we know the place where we started for the first time! The place hasn’t changed, we have changed, transformed in our deepest places!
Thanks be to God and to the touch of Spirit breath. Amen
The Sixth Day of Advent
Transplant Day Twenty-five
December 6, 2019
The Day is here
and we made it to Bethlehem!
The time has come for kneeling
and we’ve seen the Child!
There is singing in the stable
and we want desperately to hold on to it . . .
hold on to the Star!
and the angels!
and the spirit of love!
How do we hold on
to the Christmas spirit?
Why can’t every day be Christmas?
The world mutters “Be realistic,”
and sometimes we church people mutter too.
On our way back from Bethlehem
sometimes we forget
what we’ve been warned about in a dream:
to return another way.
Once we’ve seen the Child,
we’re left holding hearts
wherein angels dance
and stars sing!
Once we’ve been to Bethlehem,
every day is Christmas!
— Ann Weems
I am holding, grasping tightly “the Star and the angels and the spirit of love.” My journey to Bethlehem is Advent’s gift. I walk the path with expectation and hope (even just a wee bit of hope some days), and I imagine the glory of the promised Child.
This year during Advent’s pilgrimage, I also walk the rocky path I call my transplant journey. I do hold on to hope as I travel the rough transplant path, and along the way I see tiny glimpses of hope. But not every day. Minute by minute I navigate symptoms and side effects and, on the worse days, my community holds hope for me when I can’t hold it for myself.
On the path — the path of both Bethlehem and transplant journeys — I see graces along the way: stars, angels, Bethlehem’s brightest star, the Child in a simple manger! It’s enough for me, the images that cry out “Hope!” It is holy ground, sacred space. Hope will get me there, sustaining me along the way, as God’s grace carries me.
And the poet’s words are true:
Once I’ve seen the Child, I’m left holding my heart wherein angels dance and stars sing!
Thanks be to God!
Transplant Day Sixteen
November 27, 2019
An endearing Physician’s Assistant, Melanie, listened carefully to my symptoms, complaints, concerns and pains, taking very seriously every snippet of information I gave her. She responded with a well thought out remedy for each of my concerns. She was thorough in explaining how we would address every problem and she did so with humor and compassion. Melanie was obviously highly trained and impeccably qualified to treat transplant patients. She had many years of experience and could explain every symptom and prescribe a plan to address it. Her encouragement that the unpleasantness would pass over time was a boost to my courage. Her gift to me was increased patience and a renewal of my hope.
At the end of our session, Melanie offered a summary of the visit, a very descriptive, professional and astute summary. “You’re just having a rough patch right now,” she said, “Itchy, shaky and puffy!”
All of a sudden, I knew her words would be the title of my next blog post. “Itchy, shaky and puffy!” Perfect! Simple descriptive words — not just sterile clinical jargon — but extremely real and true. And that’s what my family and friends want most to know. What are you really feeling?
The truth is that, from the transplant itself, I am recovering well, and now with very little pain. But the effects of my high-powered immunosuppressant medications are playing havoc on my body and all its systems.
Itchy — enough to keep me awake through the night.
Shaky — along with weakness makes it hard to walk and even feed myself.
Puffy — I can’t even describe the pressure in my legs that feels like a balloon about to burst. Two times their normal size is not an exaggeration!
There you have it — a very real, true and human description of how I am faring post transplant. It is pure grace to be able to counter the simple description of my ailments with the simple words of encouragement from the Gospel of Luke:
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
— Luke 12:6-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
When all is said and done, I am beginning to believe that I really will emerge from this transplant with a stronger faith and an everlasting hope, having learned how to trust God more fully and know in my heart of God’s healing mercies. Most of all, I want to get past this transplant with words of praise to God on my lips, like the Psalmist, declaring that my mourning has turned to dancing:
Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me;
Lord, be my helper!”
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
— From Psalm 30
* With thanks to Melanie.
Transplant Day Fifteen
November 26, 2019
Today will be a better day it seems. Excruciating pain has lifted for the most part. Yet, I am still facing enormous challenges — getting control of my raging blood sugar readings, reducing the swelling that is very uncomfortable, dealing with frequent changes to my medication dosages that are so necessary to prevent my body from rejecting its new kidney, eating the right foods and NOT eating the things that are strictly forbidden, adhering to a stringent regimen of washing all food properly, lathering on hand sanitizer every time I possibly can, wearing sunscreen at all times and never, ever forgetting to wear my mask.
Fortunately, I am married to a caregiver who is the “spreadsheet king” and he has my every move on his spreadsheet, including times and dosages of about 20 medications taken every day — 38 pills, 6 liquids and 6 injections. Three to four times Every week, we have appointments at Mayo Cinic starting at 6:15 am and sometimes continuing into the afternoon. It is making us very tired and overwhelmed, exhausted. There is not one thing about our lives that has not changed.
So I would not be honest if I did not admit my worries, my obsessiveness, my overthinking, my fear, my vivid imagination about all that could go wrong and my wondering what will happen tomorrow, the next day, and all the days ahead.
It is the best advice, I think, to set my focus on two words — just breathe. Just breathe, and have faith that everything will work out for the best. And it won’t hurt to ponder and lean on the many promises of God’s care and grace. These are but a few:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
2 Corinthians 5:7
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
It can only harm me to be worried and anxious, frightened and overwhelmed, concerned about what the days ahead will look like. It seems to me that I should just breath, all the while leaning on the everlasting arms.
On another note, please pray for me as I recover from my kidney transplant. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening and is now a very difficult and stress-filled recovery time. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. Your donations have helped us with the expense of staying in Jacksonville, near Mayo Clinic, for this month of post transplant care. If you can contribute or if you would like to read more of the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is also 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, uncovered medications and medical equipment, 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
I can do this hard thing, this recovery from a kidney transplant. But sometimes I need to shed some tears about it all. Tears do not come out of weakness. In fact, tears are the mark of power. Called “the soap of the soul,” tears can help diminish the angst my soul clings to so tightly. Unfortunately, I tend to fight back tears as if they will hurt as they slip down my cheeks. I also nurse the irrational desire to not let anyone see my tears. After all, someone might consider them a sign of my weakness.
Yet, God has another thought about our tears. God counts our tears, keeps up with them, gathers them up and stores them in a bottle. I can imagine the scene of a loving God gently catching every tear and preserving it as a precious elixir worth saving.
Still I avoid weeping at all costs, portraying a false, less-than-honest strength — especially if someone might see.
Today, I am so aware that if I could just cry, the hard time I am going through would feel easier. If I could cry, my tears would cleanse my heart and help minimize my physical, emotional and spiritual pain. If I could just let my tears fall, I would be reclaiming my power.
The truth is that I did not fully understand how hard it would be to endure a kidney transplant and the very, very difficult aftercare regimen. Nor could I have ever imagined the range of emotions I would experience. This is one of life’s hard things.
Last night though, a dear friend sent me a video of a song she chose just for me, just for this moment of my life. I had never heard the song before, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. A mesmerizing tune and simple lyrics written and performed by Carrie Newcomer, “You Can Do This Hard Thing” brought me to tears, tears that really needed to flow.
You can do this hard thing.
You can do this hard thing.
It’s not easy I know,
But I believe that its so.
You can do this hard thing.
My faith tells me that I really can do this hard thing, although most of the time I don’t feel that I can. The friends and family who surround me with love remind me that I can. My heart tells me I can do this, but my rational mind tries to convince me that I cannot. I am reminded by the hymn writer that grace for this hard thing comes from God . . .
God giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
So perhaps it does require our tears, our lament that humbles us before our God of grace. The writer of the Book of James seems to suggest that grieving and weeping brings God near and that our mourning actually strengthens us to live through hard things.
God gives all the more grace . . .
Submit yourselves therefore to God . . .
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you . . .
Lament and mourn and weep.
Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.
— From James 4 (NRSV)
It doesn’t make much sense that mourning is a good thing, that flowing tears actually cleanse the soul. But I need to see things this way: Life brings changes — hard changes sometimes. Along with the miracle of my kidney transplant comes the end of one season of life and the advent of a new season of life. While I do celebrate the transplant and the ways it will be life-giving for me, I must also grieve the loss of my previous life that had become so comfortable, so easy.
I will call out to my buried tears. I will open up my heart’s pain, grieve my losses and let my tears fall freely down my cheeks. It seems to be the best way to make sure I can do this hard thing.
November 12, 2019 — the day of my kidney transplant
I’m welcoming twilight today, that space created for me by a gifted anesthesiologist.
It is, I imagine, a magical thing that gathers all the worries, fears, disappointments of illness and tucks them neatly into a glittering silver pouch.
The twilight is a good feeling, a sense of new well-being in the all places where my feelings and emotions live.
It is a comfort and a grace.
It is a relief, a blessed sense that all is well.
It is an alchemist holding the silver pouch in her hands and flinging it into the heavens, each fear and worry joining the stars in the night sky.
And as dawn breaks — a new dawn — I welcome a new life, a different life, a gift of life that feels like hope.
On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant today at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so 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 rea 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
Psalm 57 has been called “a prayer of safety from enemies.” When we believe that danger threatens to harm us, body and soul, that is the time that makes us cry out to God with the fervency of the Psalmist. Hear the Psalm’s second verse.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by.
Ah, the calamities! So ever-present with us in uncertain times. Calamities! The synonyms are many and ominous:
Disaster, catastrophe, tragedy, cataclysm, crisis, adversity, blight, tribulation, woe, affliction, evil.
And those are just the first few listed in my trusty Thesaurus. There are many more, describing a state of being that is frightening, all-consuming and dangerous. Such a state of being we want to avoid at all costs. We want to take refuge swiftly before evil overtakes us.
Can you recall a time when your life was in calamity mode? So many situations can place us in calamity mode: illness, relationship problems, addictions, loneliness, aging, financial distress, the loss of a loved one and so many other situations of distress.
We feel as if “enemies” are chasing us, unrelenting in their threat. We run like the wind, if we can, to get away from them. But all too often, we look behind us and an “enemy” is right there, looming large before us and bringing us face to face with the cataclysm we feared. So we are now in the clutches of adversity, and we wonder if where we are is where we’ll ever be.
We are very good at laying out our calamities, lining them up one by one for all to see. Because when others see our calamities, we believe they will help us. We believe that our friends can help us escape our calamity du jour. In their help, we place our hope. Trouble is, sometimes we’re disappointed because hope does not often come through friends. Those around us have their own calamities. When they don’t (or won’t) reach into our troubled place and help us, we despair. What can we do? Where will we turn?
The truth is that when our soul trusts in God, we will wake up from our nightmare and find that we are sheltered in the shadow of God’s wings. Safe from calamity. Nestled in a place of refuge. Brokenness repaired. Watching gratefully as calamity after calamity passes us by.
What a grace is that! What unmitigated compassion! What sheer loving mercy from the God who might just as well have left us in the danger of our calamities.
Thanks be to God for every safe refuge, from every calamity. Amen
Celebrating a five-year anniversary can be a fine excuse for a party! Definitely a five-year milestone can offer a chance to revisit and recall memories. My five-year anniversary is tonight, the night a phone call from my doctor ordered me to get to the ER. It was the night we learned that my kidneys had failed, just like that, out of nowhere, no notice. It was the night that end stage kidney disease turned my world upside down. It was the night that was the advent of a full year of hospital stays, biopsies, surgeries, physical and occupational therapy, loads of questions, very few answers and most of all, a very concerned and fatigued husband.
Fred was my rock, as he has always been. He slept next to me in that horrible excuse for a family bed. He kept vigil at the hospital day and night. When I was able to persuade him to go home to get some rest, he answered my phone calls in the middle of the night when I was sleepless, frightened or lonely.
“Are you up?” I would ask.
“I am now!”
I don’t really think this anniversary calls for a party, but it does call for some reminiscing and remembering. So last night, Fred and I recalled the year I was so ill, that horribly wonderful year. Interestingly, we have two separate and differing sets of memories. He tells me that, most of that year, I was not aware of much, to the point of not even recognizing him. He tells me that I almost died during three separate critical events.
On my end, I remember none of that. I did lose time in that year, with confusion about losing days, even weeks, when I was unresponsive. I endured hundreds of needle sticks, maybe thousands since I am told my veins had collapsed. I received a port for hemodialysis that promptly caused me to nearly die of sepsis. I had a kidney biopsy that developed a painful bleed. I ate terrible food most of the time. I spent a lot of time in therapy learning to walk, write, identify colors and place square blocks in round holes.
Together we remember the love and care of my church, the family that constantly clamored for updates, the handful of good friends that were present, the food that the church brought to us every single week, and the nurses, angels in disguise.
I must say that, even to this day, I miss the sweet nurses that cared for me with great compassion. They were ever-present when I needed help and, during those long nights, they would often come in with a popsicle, sugar-free of course!
A final memory for today’s blog is the soft, fluffy afghan that my dear friend, Rev. Donna Rountree, brought me from her church. The Disciples of Christ church where my friend served as pastor barely knew me. I had preached there once. The congregation prayed for me, over the afghan, during a church service. Then Donna brought the afghan to the hospital, placed it on me, and told me that it was covered with the prayers of the people. What a special gift! What a special grace!
When I think of that year, my description of it is “horribly wonderful.” Wonderful because, in the worst of times, God breaks in through the grace of a devoted husband, a caring family, an attentive nurse, a gentle phlebotomist, a close friend, a skilled physical therapist, a loving church family.
So, yes, I took from that horrible year some wonderful memories, and that is what I can celebrate at this five-year milestone. And what’s more, I am here, still on this side of heaven and grateful for better health and life-saving dialysis. Pure grace!
Thanks be to God.
What a caring and compassionate ministry it is to sit beside someone who is grieving and remind them of God’s grace. In recent days, I have wept for and with so many friends who are grieving for what they have lost because of the Florida hurricane. To be sure, there were losses in Georgia and in the Carolinas, but the devastation in and around Panama City was catastrophic.
Hordes of compassionate people traveled to Florida to help. They will clean up debris, repair or rebuild homes that sustained damage, do electrical work, provide help in the shelters, share their hearts and God’s heart, and stand beside families as they pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Mostly, they will weep with people, and that’s what will help more than anything else.
Author Ann Weems paints a sparkling vision with her words that speak of the “godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” But then she tells of a deafening alleluia arising from the souls of those who weep and from the souls of those who weep with them. From that weeping, Ann Weems tells us what will happen next. “If you watch,” she writes, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.”
I like to think that the caregivers who traveled to Florida did a lot of weeping with those who needed it and that they stayed near them long enough for them to “see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.” When all is lost — when you learn that your loved one has died or you stand in a pile of rubble on the ground that used to be your home — seeing the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies would be for you a manifestation of pure and holy hope.
Without a doubt, Florida is experiencing “the godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” Their memories of this devastating time will be cruel and long-lasting. They will remember better days, neighborhoods that once thrived, schools that were destroyed and friends who are trying their best to recover. But what grieving people will remember most is the care someone gave them and the loving compassion of strangers who became forever friends. I am reminded of the words of poet Khalil Gibran:
You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.
― Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. — Romans 12:15