8 Years: Reflections on Life Post-Transplant

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20-21

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:26

8 years.
2,922 days.
70,128 hours.
4,207,680 minutes.
252,460,800 seconds.

It’s been 8 years since I was wheeled through those double doors and taken back for my double lung transplant. It’s been 8 years since I said goodbye to a room full of family and friends, never knowing if I’d see them again this side of Heaven. It’s been 8 years since the Lord saw it fit to rescue me from my physical brokenness and save me from the brink of death in a matter of just 12 hours for my good, but most importantly, His glory. It’s been 8 years, but those years have been so very full, it feels more like a lifetime…and then some.

So much – so much more than I ever could anticipate – has happened since that time. It would take several blog posts to go through it all, but thankfully I’ve already written about much of it in my book, Breathtaking, as well as documented the most recent happenings here on the blog. If you only recently started following my story during the series on our adoption/surrogacy/miscarriage/adoption journey (thanks for reading, btw :)), I’d encourage you to get to know my life prior to 2013 through my husband’s and my book, if you get the chance.  It truly is a miraculous story of God’s sovereignty and goodness amidst human suffering, a story I could never, ever conjure up on my own in a million years. When I occasionally stop and read portions of the book, or even blog posts I have written this year, to remind myself of how faithful the Lord has been to me during my 27 years of life, I sometimes have a hard time believing that the person I’m reading is about me.

The ways in which I have seen God move in my life are staggeringly beautiful and constantly leave me face-down in a posture of humility before my King, as they should. On days like today, when the vivid memories come flooding back, and the tears fall like fresh rain, I am once again left speechless and so in awe of the work He has chosen to accomplish through me instead of choosing to take me Home years ago, which He so easily could have done. Words can never express my gratitude for the 8 years I have had to walk this earth. No matter how many more years I get, I have been blessed beyond measure to have had the fullness of life I have experienced since September 25, 2005. He didn’t have to practically raise me from the dead for Him to be sovereign or good. By His sheer nature, He can be nothing but those things and more. Friends, He didn’t “owe” me 8 more years, and He certainly doesn’t owe me any more.

He may not owe me any more, but I’m still a human. I still desperately want more time with the ones I love, especially my husband and my children, with whom I have yet to get to spend any time. If we’re truly honest with God, ourselves and others, we all want “more” of something. Whether that be something as simple as more understanding of why a life circumstance had to occur, more children, more money, more friends, more prestige, more whatever. At the end of the day, though, Jesus is asking us – is asking me – if we (I) ultimately only want more of Him, no matter if we get our desire for “more” ____.

That’s a hard pill to swallow (and believe me I’ve swallowed thousands of pills in my life), though, when more of Him may never mean more of the thing you so desperately want. You want the good news, though?

He promises He’ll always be enough.
Always. No exceptions – ever.

I wish I could say I live like I believe this 100% of the time. Like all humans, my finite mind has a hard time sometimes grasping why certain things have to happen. To be honest, 2005 was a lot easier for me than 2013 has been thus far. I know that will sound dramatic to some. It is what it is, though. I can’t really articulate for you all the ends-and-outs of exactly why that is. That is my reality, though, whether you (or I) understand it or not.

As I continue through my post-transplant journey, I admittedly struggle at times feeling like a ticking “time bomb.” In some ways, this feeling has gotten better as time as gone by; in others, it has become harder to escape. 8 years out, 1 year always feels like 5 years, if not more. In the beginning, 1 year would feel like a decade.

After all of these years, I think I’m finally starting to realize why:

The longer I live, the more people die who began their transplant journey around the same time as me (60-70%); that’s a fact of life I can’t change. I don’t have to be a slave to it, but I can’t hide under a rug and act like it doesn’t exist. Consequently, though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt God can choose to have me live another 50 years, time certainly doesn’t seem on my side. Just like an older person who most likely has lived at least 1/2 , if not much more of their life, I am left with not only a keen awareness of time but this insatiable desire to not only be a good steward of my time but also for more – lots more – of it in general. To not be enslaved to the awareness of life being but a vapor (James 4:14), I also have to daily (especially during this season of barrenness) give my desire for control over my time on earth over to the Lord, the One who numbered my days before time existed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that being cognizant of time isn’t all a bad thing – hardly so. In fact, I believe (for me) having a healthy awareness of post-transplant patients’ life spans, and thinking through how your family is going to be taken care of if/when you’re gone and unable to be there for them, is not only the responsible thing to do but the Godly thing. That’s why I took the time to plan out my funeral 8 years ago when I was faced with the very real possibility of death. I refused to leave that difficult task on my parents to do with the help of my close friends, who also would have been grieving (though not as deeply) upon my death. My mom didn’t understand my reasoning for such planning at the time. Understandably so, she refused to take part in it. It had to be done, though; at least it had to be done for me, if even only for a few months, to live with a clear conscience. Even though  God had other plans for my life, and those written-out funeral plans were obviously never used, I know to this day I was obedient in doing it, even 8 1/2 years after sitting down with a group of people and planning out something that never came to fruition.

Now, 8 years, a loving marriage and Lord-willing soon-to-be, precious children later, my focus has shifted from my parents and close friends to my husband and children. My love for my parents hasn’t waned in the slightest (in fact, it has grown as I prepare to be a parent myself), but my priorities have changed and rightfully so. I still want more time with my parents, other immediate family and friends, of course. After all I had been through, I had no idea how much marriage, and the oneness (spiritually, emotionally and physically) that comes with it, would change the way I process time. After my surgery, I was made aware of how precious time truly is, but my urgency for spending my time well has only been heightened since marriage. I’m sure it will become even more sensitive once our children are here. Now I just don’t think about how I’m spending my God-given time and what type of legacy I am leaving. I also have a  physical longing to be a good steward of my time with my spouse and kids. I daily long to “redeem the time” we have with one another. I’m consciously aware that my days with them are (most likely) fewer than we all would like and for which we would ask, and that knowledge changes the way I view everything.

To illustrate my point, I’ll give you an analogy:

Sometimes I feel as if I am standing within an hourglass made of impenetrable glass, which is quickly burying me with sand, i.e. lost time.

As I look out at 99% of the world, in particular those my age, I see those whose glasses seem to be pouring much more slowly than mine. They are standing only knee-to-waist deep in their sand and hardly aware of the urgent feeling they, too, will one day feel to “redeem the time.” For most of them, that realization of their finiteness will come many years later in their journey called life. Due to feeling as if they, even those older than me, “have all the time in the world,” I see mostly a generally worry-free attitude when it comes to redeeming their time left on Earth.

As for me, no matter what the speed of others’ glasses, or how hard I try to move at their speed, I can’t crack the glass or slow down my sand. As a result, I continue to be (or feel as if I a being) swallowed up at a much faster rate than the vast majority of my peers. Those who are my age, including my own spouse, are naturally more concerned with their grandparents’ and parents’ hourglass at this point in their lives than their own.

As Christians, weasily say that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Most of us are planning on easily living at least 70-80 years, though, because that’s what statistics tell us we’ll most likely get.  In the process of living all of those years,  it’s easy to lose sight of the beauty and importance of redeeming ever single day, even the mundane ones. It’s easy to “bank” on things happening in life for you (whether graduating from college, marriage, having children, succeeding in your career, retirement, etc.), because after all, that is the natural trajectory of the vast majority’s lives. Furthermore, as people are moving through life and its natural ebbs and flows, most don’t consciously take their finite nature to heart, at least not every single day. This is especially true of those living within the first half of their natural lifespan.

People don’t consciously think about their own hourglass until tragedy strikes.

A few times in life, one will inevitably be rocked to the core and left to deal with a loved one’s mortality. This uneasiness is most likely first felt through the death of grandparents, in particular a close grandparent. Usually, after the initial blow (through the death/sickness of whomever is closest to them — usually the oldest loved ones still living at the time), life eventually returns to “normal.”

When tragedy strikes the younger (peers, spouses, children), however, it tends to “wake people up” a little more than when the elderly pass. Depending on how close and young the dead loved one was, the sting of death seems a little deeper, because all of us (no matter our religious affiliation) know the young aren’t “supposed” to pass away. We feel the effects of the Fall a little more during those tragic times.

Still, the formative life-changes that come from these times of grief, even in its most tense form, usually do not fully garner our attention to our own life clock. Even after the gravest of situations, the urgency to “redeem the time” wanes until the next tragedy, which starts the process all over again for a few days, months, or possibly a few years. 

Most of our lives are not lived under the part of the mantra that says “for tomorrow we die” but instead the former part, which says “live, drink and be merry.” And so we do. Like the old Tracy Lawrence song says, “time marches on,” and it does so without much thought from us most of the time.

Eventually, though, everyone starts to acknowledge their “sand.” After usually a very long, full life, people “suddenly” become aware of their hourglass filling up. They seem shocked and act as if it happened just overnight. As we all know, though, aging,  and consequent loss of time, is a natural progression; it is one that occurs whether we pay attention or not. Some life events, such as illness or a major birthday milestone, just make us more aware of that fact. Major life changes, such as graduating high school or college, getting married, having children, a mid-life crisis, or retirement can also remind us, at least for a bit, that life is indeed moving along.

Eventually, not only do people have to come to grips with time passing, they are faced with their pending death – the end of their “sand” falling – whether they’re ready or not. Psychology experts will tell you that it is during the last years of one’s own life, that deep reflection on one’s own life occurs for the first time for the majority of the human race. Some are eased into this pattern of thinking very slowly and reflect on-and-off for two or more decades before their demise. Others, however, are shoved forward into dealing with their mortality in a more tangible way when they are suddenly diagnosed with a severe illness (such a cancer or heart disease), diagnoses which can even come with a possibility of death for some. For many individuals, due to lack of self-actualization throughout most of their lifetime, oftentimes this period of end-of-life reflection brings up past regrets and disappointments in their personal, professional lives and even spiritual lives. It can conjure up feelings of  past hurt and shame and cause one to feel the consequences of the weight associated with a lack of fulfilled dreams, forgiveness for oneself and/or others, or a pattern of disobedience to God. Sadly, for some (even Christians who are confident in their eternal home), the darkest period of their life is the very end of their life – a very, very sad fact, if you ask me.

Whether we’re ready or not, whether we are at peace or not, the fact is this: We all die.

The question is this: Are we going to not only die well, but more importantly, live well? Are we going to live with conviction for the glory of King, the Author and Finisher of our faith, or are we to try be the masters of our own fate until that no longer works for us?

 Fast pouring glass or not, whether we choose to acknowledge our glass throughout life or not, in order to have peace, Jesus still has to be enough – in all things.

He has to be enough in life and in death. He is the Keeper of the glass, after all. He is the One who determines the number of our days, not us or a statistician who promises us far more, or maybe far fewer, days than we will actually live.

For me, that means a desire for more of Him has to be more than my desire for more time. On a tangible level, that means daily balancing the tension I feel to not focus so intently on my hourglass I feel paralyzed, but to be responsibly aware of its contents, nonetheless. That daily tension causes me to be cognizant of our finite nature, and therefore wanting to live my life to the fullest, but also wanting to be capable of relaxing and enjoying life while I have it, too. Some days, I walk the mental tight rope better than others.

Bottom line: I have to balance my keen awareness of the time at hand (which is a unique gift I’m thankful to have) with also a permission for myself to join the others and, at least in a way, “live, drink and be merry,” as long as I’m doing it for the glory of my King. After all, I’m not dead yet. 😉

Thank God, I’m not dead yet. 🙂


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Filed under Breathtaking, cystic fibrosis, grace, Health, Life, Marriage, Purpose, Sanctification, Simplicity, Transplant

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