I just don’t get it. I want life to be fair but I don’t worry about “fair” when things are going great. Who does? Have you ever seen a lottery winner shake her head and say, “I don’t know. Life’s not fair.” No? Me neither.
My world used to be full of teenagers. They were my calling more than my career. I took them canoeing down rivers, snow tubing, hiking, biking and camping. We went to concerts, we listened to speakers and we talked about life and what type of people they wanted to be. I took them to foreign countries to serve the poor and American cities to help rebuild after disasters. I watched them discover Jesus and grow in faith. I helped them achieve dreams. The teenage years are a rough time but they are also an exciting time. There are no people more full of life and energy than teenagers.
Now my world is focused on people who are struggling to hold on to life. They are every age from infants to elderly. All they know is that tomorrow is not guaranteed. They see today as a gift and hope for more days ahead. It’s a major change for me. I am adjusting, I guess.
I used to get sad when I’d see students make poor choices and now I get sad wishing my new friends had options to choose from. I get really sad. Truthfully, I don’t know how I’m doing mentally or emotionally with the change. I wonder how I can possibly continue with this new “ministry” long term. Some days it hurts. A lot.
Today, I have three people in my world who are close to death. I’m not talking about being sick and waiting for a transplant. I’m talking about being too sick for an answer and too weak to even attempt surgery or further treatment. I’m talking about being at the end of their rope where every treatment has failed and no more options exist. Apart from a miracle, everyone in their world is starting to accept the fact that the end is here.
And here I am wondering why the Lord brought me to this place. I feel like a bumbling idiot. Am I supposed to have answers? If I am, why has God not given them to me? Are there even answers to be had? The words I do have seem hollow. I hear them come out my mouth and fall to the floor with a thud. Or maybe they help? I really don’t know. I pray they do.
What I do have now is understanding. I understand what it feels like to lose hope. I know what it’s like to go to the hospital and know staff people by name. I know the reality of being able to explain an illness in medical terms. I know what it’s like to help a nurse find my best vein and telling a new third year medical student which treatments bring relief. I have a new ministry skill set that I earned the hard way.
I see people who never before gave God a second thought become suddenly angry at Him. How can you be angry at someone you don’t believe in? I don’t get it at all but I see it pretty regularly. A lot of stuff makes no sense to me in this end-of-life zone. I see other people who never before considered God find Him with unshakable certainty and start openly thanking Him.
Why do some praise and others curse? What is inside them that makes them react differently? I find myself asking God a lot of questions lately.
One of the things troubling me most is what the mental health pros call “survivor’s guilt.” It’s “why me and not him?” Many transplant recipients who receive organs from deceased donors wrestle with the fact that saving their life was dependent on someone else losing theirs. That’s not my case though. My donor is still alive and doing great.
Sometimes I lie awake and wonder, “Why me? Why did I get to live?” I am watching two little guys, both under 5 years old clinging to life with tubes and wires attached to their little bodies, machines beeping in rhythm. Both need miracles to make it. I’m in touch with two teenagers, both in hospital more than out, hoping that treatments will work to get them strong enough to get the transplants they need.
Last month I witnessed panic in a 54 year old man who received a liver transplant just over two years ago. Things were going fine until he woke up on a Tuesday morning with that horrific yellow tint in his eyes that we liver patients know so well. Tests showed that his liver went into full rejection. Four days later his family stood together at his bedside as he passed away.
I really don’t get it. I don’t know why I got to live while others die. All I can do is be thankful for each day I have. I shrug my shoulders when people ask why these things happen. I mean, I have the theological answers and rationales. I’ve got a Masters Degree in theology that gives me the academic answers. I can go into explaining man’s fallen condition and the origin of pain and disease. I can assure people that God doesn’t give people disease and can explain why he allows it. I can talk about His glory, His faithfulness and His love. I can talk a lot.
The academic answers make sense in our heads but when our hearts are being torn to shreds we don’t really want the answers. The answers don’t make anything easier. When your kid is dying it doesn’t matter that mankind chose sin rather than obedience. Rationales don’t dull the pain.
So, I stand in doorways or hold the phone to my ear hoping to help somehow. I weep over tear-filled e-mails and agonize about my response. I literally can feel an ache in my chest. Their ache.
Words don’t matter much. Presence is what matters. When I was at my lowest I was so fortunate to have people who would just come and be with me. They knew I knew all the head stuff. They knew I had faith. They just came and stayed with me.
I remember my friend Jay Reilly coming into my hospital room at Maine Medical Center. Jay and I are the type of solid friends who are confident in our love for each other even though we don’t see each other much. We’ve shared some tough stuff during many hours on the road driving our boys to concerts. I had been holding things together pretty well until Jay arrived. The floodgates opened and my emotions spilled out in tears. Why? I had total confidence that I was safe with Jay. I knew I could be transparent. Jay had no words but his presence meant everything to me.
I guess that’s what I want to be for the hurting people the Lord has put in my life. I want to be present for them. Fully present. If people need words, all I can do is trust God to give me the right ones. If they need someone to pray with, I want to meet that need. When their families need support, I think God has brought me here to support.
I just wonder if I can do it. And I wonder if it ever gets easier holding my heart in my hands.