If life has a constant most of us could agree to, it’s the Forrest Gump Principle: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” How true. In my case, what began for me as an opportunity to be a live kidney donor quickly revolved into the humbling experience of becoming a recipient, not of an organ per se, but of other life-giving blessings, both spiritual and physical.
My realization of this revolution began with a conversation I had with Dave, my recipient’s husband, while I was still in the hospital recovering from kidney donation surgery. He and I were talking about the nature of serving versus being served. In my pain medication-induced mental state, I can’t recall how we got into that subject or how it resolved. But I do remember reflecting with Dave on my experiences with the story of Jesus from John 13 which tells how the Lord himself washed his disciples’ feet.
On several occasions, I’ve participated in foot-washing experiences on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week or during small group settings. It’s never a problem for me to wash someone else’s feet. Hey, if it means helping or blessing someone else, sure, I can do that. Sign me up anytime! Yet when it comes time to switch positions and place my feet into the hands of someone who will wash them… well… to be honest that’s a wholly different, and frankly, painfully uncomfortable thing to do. My gut reaction is to smile and discreetly wave it off, saying, “Please don’t bother yourself with that. I can manage for myself, thank you very much.”
But I have had to learn that sitting there while someone washes and dries my feet is a necessarily humiliating experience for me, much like it was for Jesus’ disciple Peter. It’s Jesus’ way of teaching this proudly self-sufficient alpha male that I must make room in my life for others to serve and give to me. It’s Jesus pushing me to realize that I am far more needy than I realize, and that for my soul’s sake, I must yield to the servant Christ within my sister or brother who would lovingly kneel to wash my feet.
Little would I know, the opportunity to relearn this figurative experience in real life began to happen the day after I came home from kidney donation surgery. On the afternoon of that next day, I started to get some serious GI rectal bleeding that cost me an immediate return trip to the hospital. (Side note: I won’t bore or gross you out with lots of medical details except to say that the bleeding stopped. After three major tests produced no conclusive results, I ended up back home with instructions to follow-up with my primary care doctor.) Yet those miserable five days back in the hospital shaped into a defining wilderness experience I never want to repeat, but whose lessons I hope to keep closely.
I had lost so much blood that I required two units of blood. Never having needed a blood transfusion before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that my condition was worse and even more life-threatening than I knew. As I laid there in the hospital bed gazing up at each bag of blood that was slowly draining into my body, it occurred to me that this was no manufactured IV fluid or medicine. This was created and then voluntarily taken out of someone else’s body, and now it was flowing into mine. Someone freely donated this blood and at that moment, it was saving my life.
For the next couple of hours I looked up at one unit of blood and then the other, trying to imagine the faces of those anonymous donors. Several nights later I had a strange dream about that very thing. In my dream the first unit was given by a stay-home mother of four who donates regularly to her local Red Cross donation center. Then I dreamed that the second unit was donated by an African-American man who happened to walk into a blood drive hosted by a local church. It doesn’t much matter to me how true the dream was. The dream painted a greater reality of both the diversity and the generosity of people who donate blood. Two people, each giving a pint of blood, saved my life.
If that wasn’t leveling enough, I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I experienced next. While I was in the hospital and every day since, my family and I have been bathed in a steady stream of prayers, cards, and meals. Folks have given expressions of concern and love over the phone, by e-mail, on Facebook, in good-old-fashioned hand-written notes. Occasionally, we’ve gotten warm, short visits from friends and family. We have been carried along by the hands, voices, and hearts of hundreds and hundreds of people. I’m not sure how to put into words how deeply moving all of this has been. (Even that last bit of dribble seems so hopelessly cliché!)
I even had agnostic and atheist friends tell me that they would pray for my recipient Ann and me, since they knew it would mean something to us. Spiritually speaking, it doesn’t get much more selfless than that, especially for people who don’t believe in a deity, much less any form of prayer. If only more of us believers could be so thoughtfully giving…
So, here I sit, pondering all of this, my feet being gently washed by countless people. I struggle to put into some kind of meaningful expression the impact of tables turning, of the donor who quickly became a recipient. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for breathing restorative life into me and for the profound lessons your gifts continually teach me. In you and in the giving of your very selves, I have seen the face of Jesus Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to offer his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Again, I offer my love and thanks to God and for God in you!