“Hey kid! What’s your story?” I can hear my dad asking. It’s a bit of a strange question, isn’t it? I mean, if you’ve never heard it asked before, how might you answer?
Is he asking what my favorite story is, the tale I like best? If so, I could try to impress you by claiming that I find the adventures of Pip in Great Expectations enthralling or that I often pull my back muscles carrying around my true favorite, War and Peace, but I’d be lying. We could sip our tea in an overpriced coffee shop while discussing allegory, antagonists, protagonists and symbolism. I could try my best to fake it in a lucid, lively, literary litigation and even use awkward alliteration. Unfortunately it would only be a matter of minutes until my act would crash and burn. I’d throw in a reference to Thoreau’s brilliance in penning, “On Golden Pond.” Right author. Wrong pond. Good stories. I read them once … and it was enough. My true favorite story?
It would either be P. D. Eastman’s classic treatment of the canine chaos or the time-tested ichthyologist journal by that renowned doctor. I’m sure you know which stories I’m referring to. Yes, Go, Dog, Go (Eastman) and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Seuss. Both top my list of favorites. I’ve read them hundreds of times.
Dad’s question was actually more of a, “What’s up?”
My story. Your story. We have the immediate story; watching the Red Sox bullpen blow a lead, cleaning the house, trying to fix a generator, knitting mittens, etc. But then we have our larger story, the stories of our lives.
Our life stories are made up of things that happen to us and things we make happen. In fact, even the things that happen to us beyond our control can be altered by our reactions. Really, you and I are, in large part, writing our stories. I hold the pen. You hold the pen.
Let me explain. In 2005 I got sick and had my gall bladder removed. No sweat, more than a half million people in the U.S. have gall bladder surgery each year. My story took a twist when my surgeon saw my liver and said,”Hmmm, that doesn’t look right.” My next chapter was titled, “Life with NonAlcoholic SteatoHepatitis” (NASH) marked by what they called a “fatty liver” with lots of fat pockets. Okay, so what can I do? Out comes the pen of my decisions, my reactions and my plans.
Some people facing chronic illness, give up. They dwell on the negative and decide they are powerless to affect any part of their story. Others dig in their heals and determine to fight. I decided to learn what I could, change my diet and lose weight. Most people with Fatty Liver Disease don’t progress to NASH and then, most people (95%) with NASH never need a liver transplant. But that was not my story.
I wrote my next chapter with a framework of exercise, healthy eating, weight-loss, prayer and increasing dependence on God. A lot of people angrily write God out of their story but I didn’t think that was a wise move. It would be comparable to pitching my boat motor overboard and choosing to go the rest of the way with oars. I see lots of people doing that and wincing with each painful stroke.
Only about 6000 people get liver transplants each year. That’s .002 percent of the population. Yeah, I sure am special! It’s now a chapter of my story with the “writing” of my decisions, perspective and attitudes coloring it. With each decision I make to look for the positive and keep fighting, more lines to my story are written.
My story is still being written. So is yours. In each of life’s challenges we get to write. We choose our attitudes. We decide how to act and react. We choose either to sink into hopelessness or dig in our heals and fight. We decide to either wallow in self-pity or make the best of our situations.
Where is your story headed? What are you writing around your personal challenges? Are you being proactive or reactive? Are you writing a story of defeat or victory?
Is it time to “right” your story and make changes? No matter how bad things are, you are not powerless – especially if you haven’t written God out of your story. If you have, it’s time to write Him back in.
“And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us – an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.” – Romans 8:17-18 (The Message)
A quick comment on writing God out. I dont think there are too many modern day Jobs (bible guy not work). How many people could have everything in their life taken away and still want to believe? I think everyone has their limits. For some, its simply life doesnt go exactly their way. For others, its when God leaves them empty on friends, family, job, men. U cant take every area of someones life and suffocate it and expect praise. Isnt that like the guy at work that does nothing, takes long lunches, leaves early that wants a raise?????
Heres a way I think of it……family, friends, and faith are like the pillars of a stool that helps u up when u r crippled. If u dont have it, its a lot harder to get up and as u say “write a good ending”.
If ur single, family isnt there as much. Friends scatter many times. So ur left w faith. Then, its hard to have that when ur left in that condition. They begin fighting a biggle battle than just their illness or just their crisis. They dont have a stool to stand on!!!
You’re right. There aren’t many modern day Jobs. In fact, even in Job’s time he was unique. He wasn’t at all common. Then, and now, the Job character is the same. I look at:
Joni Erickson Tada. Teenager – dives in shallow water – quadriplegic – goes through thoughts of suicide and severe depression – learns to paint holding a brush in her teeth. 1986 marries! Recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She can’t do the most basic task for herself. She loves God, praises him and works like crazy advocating for people with disabilities. She speaks all across the country encouraging people to put their faith in Jesus.
Tony Melendez – born with no arms – learned to play guitar with feet – played for Pope. Today is a motivational speaker, tours with his band and is active in the pro-life movement.
My life is easy compared to Job and compared to these two people. And, if you believe my battle is easier than yours, I cannot argue with you. It could have been so much worse. There are many who have it much worse than me.
But, I will disagree vehemently with conclusions you’ve made about your own ability to affect change. I believe there is always hope! No one is powerless.
Job didn’t praise or serve God because of what he did for Job or for past blessings. Job understood that God is God Sovereign. To not bless or worship Him is a fatal mistake. Job knew that and that’s why he argued so readily against his wife and friends. I pray that should I lose my wife and kids or face rejection of this new liver that I, like Job, will remember that God is God regardless of the state of my life.
I remember the night in March when I coded. I was minutes away from death. A severe reaction to an antibiotic caused my tongue to swell so large that it would not fit in my mouth. It closed off my airway. I remember the alarms and medical staff running into my room. I remember hearing them frantically bark out commands for injections of this and that. It sounded just like TV. I remember them tossing me around like a rag doll to get me into a better position. And then, I remember coming to with a plastic oxygen mask over my face and the infectious disease doctor asking me assessing questions. I saw 12-14 medical staff members surrounding my bed in a solid yellow circle because of the yellow gowns they all wore. Every eye was on me and the tension was palpable. I said something like, “Hello everyone. Thanks for coming to my party.” The laughter broke the tension and you could feel a collective sigh of relief.
I’d be lying if I told you I was not scared. But, somehow, I also had peace. I had been in that hospital bed for 25 days. My condition was deteriorating even more. The friends who visited me looked at me with eyes that told me just how bad I looked. I could see that seeing me was painful for them. I remember my mom crying and saying goodbye to me during a particularly bad patch. It wasn’t a “see you tomorrow” type of goodbye. It had a ring of finality to it.
Losing my job, losing my house, suffering continuously and not even able to remember my own phone number was so painful. I lost driving privileges and my independence. I sat alone in my house day after day and often fell asleep on the occasional visitor. Other times visitors energized me and, for awhile, I felt normal.
I cried out to God, I screamed at him, I sang and read His book, I wanted to die and I wanted to live. But, I always knew that He is God and worthy of my praise. Sometimes I had to make myself give him honor.
God does not exist to serve me. He doesn’t need my praise because he’ll make the rocks and trees give him praise if I don’t. Because he is loving and because he has told me to ask for the desires of my heart, I do ask him to provide, to make me well and give me strength. Like every parent, only perfect and omniscient, he does not give me everything I want. He gives me what I need to mold me to reflect his character.
My friend, I am thankful I have gone through this past year. I’ve grown and changed in so many ways. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but I am thankful. My faith, my trust, my love is somehow deeper or more real now. I can’t really explain it.
Tonight I had a fever of 101.5 at one point. Fevers for transplant recipients can mean anything from infection to rejection. I pray that it is nothing. But, if it is, I am determined to bring my God glory no matter what. Why?
God is God Sovereign. To project human frailties and characteristics onto him and evaluate him by human standards is just plain silly. I DO NOT want God to be like me and play by my selfish rules and expectations. I want to be like him.
I know you are hurting. I know you’ve suffered heartache, I know you’ve lot your job and I know your friends have abandoned. Your life sucks right now but that doesn’t mean it will suck forever. You will have days when you laugh and love again. You will have time when life is good again. I believe it with my whole heart. I wish you would too.
(Because others have the same struggles and doubts, I am using this as today’s blog too.)
First off, hats off 2 u. U r an inspiration to people in ur boat. However, a couple of comments. Ur strength is b/c u have other 10/10 branches in ur life. A great wife (from ur blog, since I havent met her), excellent kids, and a lot of friends/followers who have GIVEN 2 u. Plus, ur faith. These are critical ingredients.
Now for an ugly truth. My gfriend recently died of cancer. She fought til the end, but the saying is true. Blood is thicker than water. She was single and many of her friends took 18 steps back. I think thats sad that u cant count on friends many times during a crisis. Ill be honest, it was super hard to see her in that condition, b/c she had previously had it all…..I used to call her my Miss America friend.
A message to people everywhere. And this affected me too as an unemp. even- a tiny handful of friends remain and even those dont see u much. Ur just not on the uproad. BE A FRIEND WHEN ITS NOT CONVENIENT.
Im not M Theresa, but I think there is a way to do it as a friend and as a friend giver. As the person in need….u gotta make sure ur whole convo isnt about u …even tho ur in crisis. Think about it, u never talked only about urself before the crisis. As a friend giver, state ur limits….”hey, id like to book u once/mth for coffee at 10…can u make it?” Uve set a limit instead of disappearing b/c its not fun to see ur friend in trouble.
Remember friend givers…u may need a friend during UR CRISIS one day.
Yes, I am blessed. Please know that I also have friends who disappeared during my toughest hours. Simply, they just could not handle seeing me so sick. It depressed them and made them feel powerless.
At first I was angry. I had friends I saw almost weekly before things got bad never visit me or drop by. I had others who had never really given me the time of day suddenly become very concerned and want to visit. That was just as weird.
Through this I have come to realize that people have different capacities. My oldest son gave me part of his liver. My youngest son barely even called to check on me. Does one love me more than the other? No! Jake just couldn’t handle seeing me like that. He had to force himself to come see me.
I didn’t make it through this because of my awesome wife or my awesome family. I made it through this,so far, because of my faith in Jesus. The awesome friends,family and support are evidence of His blessing. I have no idea why He has blessed me so much but He has.
Now that I have had my transplant and am getting healthy, those friends who disappeared have started coming back into my life – all of them apologizing and feeling bad. I am so thankful I did not burn bridges!
Some people have gifts of mercy and compassion, others have just enough to “do the right thing” and the final group can’t even fake it.
I agree with your advice to friends encouraging them to be supportive but I add some counsel for the suffering. Please don’t give up on friends who seem to have given up on you, they probably just feel powerless and in the way.
Sent from my iPhone
I just received your comment and I’m directed to this post and see that you are already sharing your story. There is so many aspects to ones life and I continue to ask God where do I even begin. I learned through my years fighting kidney disease, dialysis and post-transplant that He gives just enough for each day. We naturally look for the right and wrong way when God provides so much more (credited to sermon today). I was asked to share at church today which I’m getting ready to write about. I was thankful that it was a Q&A but I’m learning to just say, “YES” when asked to share. It helps me celebrate being able to not let circumstance dictate who I am in Christ. My faith is a whole perspective that doesn’t just point to the right or left but everything. Thank you for this post and grateful to be able to share with you the miracle organ donation provides!
So glad to see you and Robin a couple sundays back at Hannah’s party. Continuing to pray. You otta be a writah. Seriously, such a gift of writing from the heart. You bless so many. Phil B.