1 month ago

One month ago at this very hour I kept vigil in Sonya’s ICU room. I will never forget that remarkable day: our 5:50am prayer in the dark with Sonya, Roger and Gay, the long morning (to 2pm!) in the waiting room with the rest of the Scott family, and hours of worry, alone in a rolling recliner in ICU.

Funny thing, but I wonder if Sonya will ever remember much of it. To totally misquote Lincoln, “She will never remember what was said that day, but she’ll never forget what was done there that day.”

Here are a couple of reflections on what we’ve experienced in this journey over the past few days:

1. the joy of friends. So many great people have showed up with meals. What gifts of grace these are! And they are always delivered by caring people who genuinely want to help us in this journey. We are so blessed to have this experience. How often in life do you have a steady procession of people showing up with gifts because they care? What a blessing!

Sadly, as we’ve experience friends coming to help/celebrate, we’ve been close to a couple of situations lately where we’ve seen a steady procession of friends show up for friends who are going through great, great loss and tragedy.

Life is serious business. Oh how we all need our friends! I am reminded this almost every day as another friend shows up with a kind meal.

2. human compassion. So often as we recount this story listener’s eyes are moistened with tears. What is this? So many different people. So many who don’t know Gay or Sonya. Yet there is something universal in the human heart that not only recognizes and acknowledges but is moved.

Christian thinking says that humans bear God’s image. If this is true (and I think it is) then we would expect that God himself is a God not just of facts, but of compassion. God is a God who is moved. This is good news, because are many situations in life where we need to know that not only does God know about something . . . but we really need to know that he cares.

This whole experience has taught me that life is full of deep, deep emotion. I am most alive when I care, and when I let others care for me.

It’s hard to believe it has been one month. It actually hard to remember my life before this event. It has been that significant.

 

 

3.

 

 

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missed opportunities

If you want a fascinating conversation, and if you’re ever around a bunch of people honest enough to have this sort of conversation, ask this question: If you could change just one decision you’ve made in your life to this point, what would you do differently?

If people are honest I promise it will be a moving and heartfelt discussion. It is the nature of being human that all of us, more often than we’ll admit, desperately wish we had a delete key, or re-do key. And we don’t. So it is our lot to live with the tension, and devise schemes to cope with our remorse.

There is the denial trick – we pretend it didn’t happen, or if it did, pretend it wasn’t nearly as big of a screw up as it seems.

There is the compensation trick – we find some way to make up for it.

There is blame trick – we ease the tension by blaming it on someone else.

Many other tricks, too, from over-working, to religion, to booze.

These strategies in theory medicate our discomfort over choices we’ve made that have brought us pain.

But when we look back with regret on our past choices how often do we think “Dang. I had a golden opportunity to make a big difference for the good, but passed it up”? If you are like me, hardly ever.

I am so Rick-o-centric that I only think about my past through the lens of what brought me pain. I hardly ever think about the way I missed opportunities to do good to others.

It would be good if I could grow to the point where I when I look at my past I regret missed opportunities to do good. And it would be even better if I grow to the point where I seize future opportunities to do good, as God brings them my way.

 

 

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good riddance . . . and thanks

Soon Gay will have her 68 staples removed. Even the thought of it motivates me to pray.

Sonya’s incision is not as traumatic as Gay’s, and it is healing very well. But far be it from me to downplay a 4 inches long, gut-opening incision. I learned (quickly, I might add) after casually calling one of Sonya’s labors “easy” that it’s not appropriate to make these sort of assessments.

They stitched Sonya up on the inside and used super glue and glorified band-aids on the outside. (You can tell I’m not a medical expert, can’t you?) I was very relieved to find out that they had stitched her up on the inside, because prior to that I was thinking it was only super glue and glorified band-aids, and I didn’t want any sort of accident to occur that might, to use engineering terms, compromise the stability of the structure.

I bet Gay will be glad to get rid of those staples They’ve been by her side (literally), through thick and thin, for nearly a month. I think, if it were my staples, I might say: good riddance, you stupid staples! Those things must be less than pleasant.

But “good riddance” might not be the only way I’d say good-bye to my pretend staples. If I thought about it long enough I’d also have to say “thank you.” They would have, after all, despite their misery, provided a wonderful service in saving my life.

Don’t worry about me. I do not talk to staples. But today it dawned on me that many of the things I am quick to kick out the door with “good riddance” could (should?), upon further reflection, also sent with away with “thank you.”

Sometimes I am so obsessed with getting rid of pain producing events in my life that I never stop to consider that there could be a hidden blessing.

This seems to be a mistake.

And I wonder it I took an inventory of all of the “good riddance” issues in my life right now, and thought about how they might be a blessing, if I might have a different hope quotient.

So good riddance to those staples . . . and thanks.

 

 

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the gift of friends

Tonight we held a reception for Sonya at a friend’s house across the street. It wasn’t a coronation, graduation, or inauguration . . . just a “come by if you want to say hi” sort of deal. Some friends came from the neighborhood, school, church, and other places, too.

There were long time friends, new friends and occasional friends – you know, the friends you bump into now and then and just pick up just where you left off before.

There were old friends (won’t say which ones), young friends, and winsomely middle-aged friends.

There are friends who never knew about the reception, friends too far away to make it, and friends who just couldn’t come.

I’ve thought a lot about friends as we’ve gone through this transplant adventure. It’s become increasingly clear to me that each friend is a gift.

You cannot purchase a friend. You can’t pay them to care. That’s a ridiculous thought.

You cannot concoct a friendship. Oh, you can guilt someone into doing something friend-like. Or you can do something for someone to get them to “owe” you so they’ll pay you back, so you will feel like you are their friend. Or dangle your power, prestige, or perks to get someone to do something friend-like.

But if we do that, and we’re honest, in the end we will realize that what we’ve secured is not a friend.

We cannot manufacture a friend. Or rent a friend. Or borrow a friend.

No. When someone offers us himself (or herself) as a friend, it is a gift. It has to be that way.

If I’m honest it’s a little disconcerting to think of my friends as gifts. After all, I’d like to be able to control something so important to me. But I can’t. But this exactly what makes each of these friendships so special. They are a gift.

So tonight I am full of gratitude at all of the friends who have been on this journey with us. Each one is a gift.

Thank you.

[check out sonya’s recent post “on empathy“]

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irritants

A few hours after Sonya’s return I jumped an early plane to Orlando. I arrived exhausted, but in good spirits. While extricating my driver’s license to clear security I noticed the absence of money in my wallet. Zippo. Nada. The null set.

So after securing a rental car I darted through an ATM to get cash. You must have cash in Orlando to go anywhere, because as soon as you leave the confines of the airport you immediately encounter hungry tollbooths, which fiercely refuse plastic.

I make it to the Doubletree just fine. For each tollbooth encountered I diligently went through the cash line, where a kind person gladly accepted my money.

I had no reason to expect anything but the same on return this morning, but alas, the Orlando plague struck again. I exited for the airport, noted the sign that informed me the toll amount was $1, grabbed a $1 bill off of the seat next to me, and slowly rolled down the ramp.

Bad news. Very bad news. There was no person at this tollbooth, just a steel watering-trough-on-a-wall that only accepts coins for its diet.

I had no change. Silly me. I had forgotten to buy a roll of quarters to go along with the stack of bills from the ATM before venturing out into the wilds of Orlando.

In shame I assessed my alternatives. I could i) park it there. ii) get out of the car and work my way back through the line behind me to ask for quarters. The line was getting longer, so this showed promise, but I was too proud to try it. iii) jam the machine by throwing the dollar bill in my hand in their quarter-catcher.  This would be a reasonable protest to one of the few places in America that only takes some forms of US currency, but not others, and this option was clearly the most emotionally desirable. I hate this.

But the conscientious side of me (what still remained) took over, and I elected to drive away, hoping to avoid jail time. The flashing red lights at my departure further endeared me to Orlando tollbooths.

As I stewed in anger over this experience, a thought flashed through my mind. It was from the 11th floor. Here it is: I bet every patient on the 11th floor would love to be at a place in life right now where they could be irritated by this tollbooth. Every one.

Irritants in life do this to us. They cause us to lose perspective. They enslave us, blind, us, and numb us to the sweet gift of life.

Tollbooths might not irritate you like they do me. You may like tollbooths. You may like them so much you have one by the side of your pool for decoration, and take Sunday drives to feed them.

But I’ll bet good money all of us have things that irritate us so much that we lose sight of the sweet gift of life. In fact, sometimes I think my life is more defined by my responses to irritants than a celebration of the sweet gift of life.

That’s one thing a journey on the 11th floor will do for all of us. If we let it, it will help us put irritants in perspective.

The sweet gift of life is wonderful. I need to be sure I never let irritants = my life

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the return

Here in North Carolina we have a strong military presence. Places like Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, and Cherry Point are often in the news, and when a family friend returns from a tour of duty everyone shows up to welcome them home.

There was no way I was going to miss Sonya’s return, even though I was supposed to be in an important conference in Orlando. Thankfully my understanding boss agreed, and I was able to change my flight so I could be there.

So Tuesday night the kids and I went to the airport to welcome Sonya. Andrew couldn’t make it because he was in the middle of mid-terms. We secured passes to go to the gate, and after an encounter with the new scanner, we hurried through the sparkling terminal at RDU.

The place was literally vacant at that hour, so Mark pounced on the first moving sidewalk, slowly accelerating to a sprint. Just as he hit full speed he bolted to the next, and the next. No one was around to care and I, for one, loved Mark being Mark. It was that sort of evening.

So the endlessly energetic one arrived to the empty gate first. It’s easy to understand his enthusiasm; it had been almost three weeks he had seen his mom.

In a few short moments arriving passengers began to scurry out from behind a partition, rushing to go somewhere. The plane was here.

There should have been a large choir singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” or a symphony or something, but it was just the 3 of us, so it was quite anti-climatic at the gate. But it was very climatic in our hearts. No one on the plane had a clue about who Sonya was, or what she had done, or why she was returning.

One by one, people rushed off the plane. With each figure our hearts jumped, hoping this was the one. It’s funny when flights land from Chicago. Everyone is wearing a heavy coat, and most are black. Some long, some short, some draped over an arm, most resting on shoulders. We were spectators for the parade of black coats. This doesn’t seem weird when you’re in Chicago, it’s a little bit of a spectacle in southern climes.

Then she strolled out, adorned in a beautiful purple top, black jeans, and carrying her simple, elegant Longchamps bag. No black coat. No fanfare. She saw the kids and everyone ran to embrace her.

She stood out from amongst the deplaned crowd in her purple glory.

She stood out to us for so many other reasons as well.

Mom was back home.

 

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shout outs

This is NOT the time in our movie when we roll the credits. I’m not sure when that time is, but surely this is not that time. We’ve got a long way to go. They are checking out Gay now, as I write this, so please keep praying.

But it is a good time to catch our breath and give a “shout out” to so many great people who have been major players in the journey to date. I apologize that this is a tad long, but a lot has happened in the last two weeks, and my heart is quite full:

Here’s to Gay: You show up in the cyber world in pictures and when people tell stories about how are you doing, But you aren’t some distant person in a make believe story. You live this journey, and it is quite overwhelming and real. You have suffered and struggled and scratched and clawed through pain and setbacks long, long before most people following this even knew there was a drama. You have been cut on, drained, poked, and medicated. This is your daily experience. You have gone to places of worry and despair we’ve never been to.

But you have not lost your glory. You have not lost your will to fight. You have done, and are doing, what none of us has done, or could do. We are with you. You are our hero. Oh how we want you to win this fight! May Olivia (her new liver) put perpetual smiles on your face for years and years and years. Go girl, go.

Here’s to Roger: You, too, only show up in cyber space in sound bites because you are busy caring for Gay. But you live this journey, as well. You measure your nights by the number of interruptions. Your full time job is nurse and transporter. And on top of all of this, there is the daily concern for Gay. As a husband no one carries a greater emotional load, day in and day out, than you, and I’m guessing it is a very, very difficult load to bear. But we don’t have to know your depths of the worry and exhaustion to care. Oh how we care!! We are with you. Carry on your brave rascal. We will do anything we can to help. [btw: there is one Helper who can always give you what you need in this journey]

Here’s to Dr. Baker, Sonya’s chief surgeon: I’ve spent less than 30 minutes you. Sonya has spent far more time with you but she was knocked out and you were cutting on her. Your talent is amazing. Every day you traffic in the world of life and death. I am in awe of how good you are at what you do. You’re probably saving a life as I write this. If you slow down enough I’d love to take you to coffee one day.

Here’s to Laurie, head liver transplant nurse: You inspire confidence in all ways. When you said “Here’s my personal cell. Call me in Guatemala” I knew you were for real. You and Nina and the other head honchos who run this operation should go to bed proud every night. When you said,  “We do not intend to lose any our donor patients!!” I knew it was a promise that you couldn’t fully deliver on. But I knew you’d kick in the door of anyone who got in the way of anything that was best for Sonya, which is why I gave you the chance. I wish everyone could meet you. You’d probably be too busy caring for other people to do it, but everyone should have an advocate like you are for us.

Here’s to the inhabitants of the glossy boulevards on the 11th floor: Every day you welcome new strangers. They come one at a time, rolled down the boulevard on a custom chassis, adorned with tubes and gizmos. You do not know their names. They are knocked out. They bring nothing to the party. But every moment, day in and day out, you care for each. You do not care for the masses, but for a single person. Tomorrow it will be someone else. That’s what makes you amazing; your stream of care seems to flow without end to people you do not know. Pretty cool. Thank you.

Here’s to Suzanne: the best caregiver/nurse ever. You’ve given up so much to log 10 days in a Residence Inn to care for Sonya.

Here’s to family and friends who are on this journey with us: It’s one thing to follow a fascinating story; it is another thing to care. You have made it known in so many ways that you care. And it is overwhelming. We have heard from friends we haven’t heard from in decades. Your prayers and concerns have not only sustained us but YOU have been a major part of our journey. Thank you for caring. Thank you for being our friends. It’s not a journey we want to repeat, but if there is something to be treasured in this story beyond the smile on Gay’s face, it is that the journey has brought us closer to so many of you, and closer to the God who gave us you. We are not done this journey, so please don’t bag out now. We need you.

Here’s to Sonya: Mark put it best in a text the day after surgery. “If you can,  tell her I love her and that I’m proud of her.” We really don’t know what to say. We love you. We are so proud of you. May God continue to heal you, and thank you for giving us this journey. We are signed up for the next phase of it with you.

To the God of all stories: This is your world, not ours. We are awestruck at that glimpses of you we’ve seen of you in this journey. Thank you for this journey, and our journeys, and how our journeys have been interwoven into something bigger than ourselves. We can only imagine how rich you must be to be the author of stories like this. We are so grateful that what we know of as “life” is so much bigger than ourselves. Oh, how we need someone, something, bigger than ourselves.

Now on to the journey at hand . . .

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