Tag Archives: resurrection

April and some Easter reflections

Happy April! Don’t you just love April? It is teeming with new life. The trees are in blossom. The tulips opened this weekend. There are little green shoots poking up out of the soil in all of the gardens around my yard. There are birds nesting in the eaves of my house. (No, that’s not necessarily a good thing.)

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April and spring also bring us Easter. A celebration of Christ’s victory over death. And spring surrounds us with reminders of the Lord’s power to bring forth life. To turn what appears dead and gone into glorious beauty. It as if all of nature is shouting the promise of renewed life.

April is also national Donate Life month. This year, with our family’s transplant journey fresh in my mind, I can’t help but see lessons about Easter and Christ’s atonement in it. I thought perhaps I would share some of those thoughts with you.

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Restoration

In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Alma describes the resurrection in these terms.

The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.  – Book of Mormon, Alma 40:23

I used to say that I looked forward to the resurrection because Patrick and I were going to have a week-long feast. With a perfect body, I want him to be able to taste every wonderful thing that he has missed experiencing in this life.  I never imagined that to be even remotely possible in this life.

And yet, since transplant, Patrick is getting to do just that. He is finally able to begin to experience some of those things. It is incomplete. Allergies and diet restrictions and motor deficits from his brain injury still limit him. And we will still need to have our feast.

Transplant is not a perfect restoration. In fact, an x-ray or ultrasound of Patrick’s belly would reveal an anatomy that looks more like a jury-rigged mess. But it is the closest approximation that I know of in this life.  Transplant takes what is broken or missing and puts things back to their “proper” frame.

And seeing what a transformation this human attempt at restoration can bring, I look forward with joyful anticipation to a day when not even a hair is missing, let alone major organs. When everything is made right. When little eyes can focus to read without effort. When words don’t get stuck in formation. When little legs can run without weakness. When everything is made whole and perfect again.

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Resurrection

There is one part of transplant that I have a hard time understanding. When Patrick was 9 months old, his heart stopped. In essence, he died in my arms. For 2 weeks afterwards, we came back to our house every night not knowing if he would survive. I was destroyed. I had not understood until that time the literal physical ache of grief that accompanies the loss of a child.

Yet somehow, in the midst of that grief, another family found in the midst of that grief the compassion to give the gift of life to mine. Before transplant, Patrick was terminal. We didn’t talk about how very real that possibility was because we didn’t want it to get in the way of his living the life he had. But we knew. We had made plans and were preparing to one day have to let him go.

With transplant came something different. A hope of a full and long life. A gift that rose out of the grief of loss and death. And, in a very real way, Patrick’s donor also lives on in him.

Again, from the prophet Alma:

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. – Book of Mormon, Alma 7:12

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Our Savior voluntarily laid down his life. He suffered pain and sorrow so great he bled from every pore. He hung and he suffered and he died. For us. His mother and his friends wept as they watched him die. They laid him in a tomb and they went home mourning. They wondered how and if they would be able to go on. And all of it. For us.

And on the third day, the returned to find the tomb empty. Because Jesus had risen. For us. He overcame death. And because he rose, we will rise. And death is not forever. Loss and sorrow and separation need not last forever. Because of Him.

I see in transplant a whisper of this promise. It is possible to conquer death. And I know that Christ has conquered death and that my son, if he dies, will live again. And so will his donor.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? – 1 Corinthians 15:55

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Weakness

If you are a medical nerd like me with an interest in transplant, I highly recommend that you sometime read the autobiography of Thomas Starzl, the inventor of transplant. It is called The Puzzle People and it is fascinating to read the journey, the determination, the trial and constant failure that led to this amazing medical breakthrough. It was an amazing confirmation to me that God inspires science and discovery and he leads human beings to be able to master the eternal laws that govern the world we live in.

I’ve learned that in science there are also important eternal lessons. And in transplant, there is an important lesson taught about weakness.

You see, in his early experiments, Dr. Starzl found that he had mastered the surgical technique of transplantation. And yet he struggled as recipients rejected the life-saving organs because they were foreign and seen by the immune system as a threat.

Transplantation did not move from the realm of science fiction into medical science until Dr. Starzl discovered how to use immunosuppression to weaken the body’s defenses enough to accept the transplanted organ. Transplant of larger, more complex organs wasn’t possible until the discovery of a drug called FK506, better known as Prograf, that could weaken the body’s natural immune response enough to protect the transplanted graft. The reason that intestinal transplant is so new and so rare is that the intestine is so large and so intertwined with the body’s immune system that it took such a high degree of immunosuppressive therapy.

In layman’s terms, in order for the body to accept a change as large as transplant, it first had to be made weak. Weak enough to be susceptible to infection and illness.

For the week following transplant, Patrick stayed in the ICU so that he could be given a drug that completely wiped out his immune system. It removed it so completely that they then prescribed him a year of antibiotics, antivirals, and isolation in order to try to protect him. All of his defenses were removed. Because that is the only way to prevent his body from immediately rejecting the gift he had been given.

The apostle Paul wrote about an unnamed affliction that plagued him for years. He frequently prayed and asked for this “thorn in his side” to be removed. And yet, it never was. After much time and certainly much struggle, he recorded the Lord’s response to his pleas.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Sometimes, the Lord gives us strength through weakness. Sometimes he leaves us with a thorn in our side, with prayers that seem unanswered, with trials that seem neverending. He does it because sometimes the only way for us to be prepared to receive His gifts.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6

Christ atoned for the sins of the world, taking upon him every sin and sorrow and transgression. But what good is that gift if we, thinking our own defenses are strong enough, reject His grace. Sometimes, it takes weakness first for God to work the change in us that will make us strong. Not all healing is painless.

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I am so grateful for Jesus Christ. For His resurrection. For His atonement. For His grace and for His love. I know He lives.

I see reminders of His gifts and His promise of life all around me. In the tulips and the tree blossoms. In tender shoots in garden beds. In the sparrows. And especially in my son.

We are doing well. Patrick’s responded well to the antibiotics he was started on last week. His liver numbers are normal again. We are still giving IV antibiotics. Therefore we are sleepy. But we are happy. And we are healthy. We had a great Easter full of bunnies and feasting and magnificent sermons. This life is not always easy, but it is good. We are blessed.

Transplant Day 31 and a Day of Rest

It seems like Patrick turned a corner last night. I wish I could say things are all better. Today, for him, things are still hard. His fevers are gone. He hurts and hurting is making him not want to take deep breaths. Because of that, even though his lungs seem a bit healthier, he’s still requiring oxygen support when he’s awake. (Not always while he’s asleep, which confirms the idea that he’s in pain.)

Therefore, we have seized upon this Sunday as a day of rest.

Of course, it didn’t start out in a very restful note. The fire alarm went off here in the hospital this morning at 5. I wish I could say that’s a small thing, but it’s not. Strobe lights flash in all the halls. They shut all the doors. And this recorded voice repeats, “There is an emergency in the hospital” over and over again. I wish I could say this is a rare thing, but it does go off somewhat regularly. The difference today is that it didn’t stop. After about an hour, they did finally figure out how to shut the voice off. “Mostly.” But at 7 the strobes were still flashing and the doors were still closed and because that somehow affects the security doors in the pediatric units, security was there.

This was enough to get Patrick good and awake for a little bit last night. Not the end of the world.. right before the alarm he was awake needing pain medication anyway. I was really grateful for his nurse last night who, instead of offering sympathetic words, got silly and made Patrick laugh with silly antics and a pillow fight at 5:30 a.m. I learned a lot from that as I saw how much better Patrick felt laughing.

Once Patrick was feeling a bit better, I decided not to force the idea of sleep. I turned on a Blues Clues and told him I was still tired but he could watch or sleep so long as he was quiet. (Last night, because he was hurting, Patrick opted to sleep in his bed alone with me asleep in the recliner, which almost stays reclined, next to him holding his hand.) I went back to sleep and so did he.

Then, about 7 a.m. Brian appeared cuz I guess he’d been awake, too. We did an early morning shift change and I headed off to get ready for church. Since Brian flies home in a few days and it will be a while before I have the chance to attend in person again, we decided that today was a good day for it.

I had the chance to visit with some of the Ronald McDonald House staff while I was waiting for it to be time to go. One of them had been to the temple open house when they built the temple here and we had a good talk about temples and why they are important to us.

I only stayed for sacrament meeting. It was good to be able to sing hymns with a congregation. I met the bishop and the newly called compassionate service leader who went through her own big, long, scary illness and hospitalization a year ago and knew all the right questions to ask.

Then I came back to the hospital where I found that Brian had been trying to help Patrick get up and move around the room, but it hadn’t been going easy. Patrick hurt and getting up just made him need more oxygen. I found him sitting in the recliner and we played playdough together for a little bit.

Then, the men from the ward (congregation) came with the sacrament for Brian and Patrick. Today a 12-year-old deacon came along and Patrick was excited to make him play playdough, too.

After they left, Patrick was looking beyond tired.. so we decided it was time for a nap. Patrick tried to avoid it. First, he stood an extra long time leaning against my shoulder. We discovered that daddy blowing zerbets on his back made Patrick’s heart rate go down and his oxygenation go up. Then, he opted to walk to the mailbox on the playroom. But once we got there without oxygen on, he was tired and I carried him back and put him to bed.

He slept 4 hours. He is only awake now because he needed his diaper changed. But his monitors reveal that the sleep has helped him to feel better.

So it’s been a very quiet Sunday, and a much needed chance to rest. I keep reminding myself that, though much smaller than transplant, yesterday’s procedure was a surgery and it will take a few days for the pain to go away again.

People often comment or ask how it is that we stay hopeful and positive during these hard times. Patrick’s attitude helps a lot. So does the support of the staff here and all of our friends and family.

Today at church one of the hymns reminded me of another way, too, that we are getting through this. Here are the words I sang today that brought a tear to my eye and some comfort to my heart.

I believe in Christ; he stands supreme!
From him I’ll gain my fondest dream;
And while I strive through grief and pain,
His voice is heard: “Ye shall obtain.”
I believe in Christ; so come what may,
With him I’ll stand in that great day
When on this earth he comes again
To rule among the sons of men.

I’ve spent the evening trying to find a good Christmas Advent for Patrick. In years past, I’ve done an activity a day calendar with baking and outings. But many of my activities don’t fit right now and I don’t feel we can plan ahead enough. So I’m looking instead at a symbol of Christ/craft a day idea like The Truth in the Tinsel.  Just gotta figure out if I have the resources to pull it off here.

Because today I was reminded that it is Christ’s atonement that carries us through this. He took upon Him all our pains, both physical and emotional.. not just the pain of sin, but our grief and other sorrows, too. His resurrection means Patrick will one day have a perfect body, free of all this illness and pain. Better than a transplant. Much better. He is the Prince of Peace.

Easter

It’s Easter morning and here in Utah a light dusting of snow fell overnight. Nevertheless, as happens with each spring snow, the tulips in my garden are still peeking out cheerfully, opening and turning to the sun as it rises. To me, there could be no better symbol of the message of Easter. As spring’s new life breaks forth giving color and warmth after a long, cold winter, so too does the promise of Life everlasting bring light and warmth to the cold, winters of this life.

Over 2000 years ago, a garden tomb was found empty. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, and in so doing had opened the door to Eternal Life for all of us. It is that knowledge that has carried our family through some of the darkest winter moments.

This past year and a half hasn’t been easy, and we know the road ahead will be harder, still. Many times, I have shed tears as I’ve watched Patrick suffer pain and illness beyond my ability to comprehend. And yet, I know that there is One who can comfort him when I cannot. I know that Christ went forth “suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. . . . And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, . . . that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people” (Alma 7:11-12)

Patrick’s body is imperfect now. Yet, because of the resurrection of Christ, “The soul shall be restored to the body and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.” (Alma 40:23)

And, in the moments when we are reminded that this life is fleeting and that Patrick’s life may be a short one, I find comfort in the knowledge that. “… little children also have eternal life.” (Mosiah 15:25)

Modern prophets have proclaimed: “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)  On a winter day in 2009, our family knelt at an altar and were sealed together for time and eternity. The atonement made possible not only eternal life, but eternal love and eternal families.

We may not know what the future holds, “But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.” (Mosiah 16:8) There is hope in whatever lies ahead.

This morning, I know of a little boy who is receiving a long-awaited heart transplant. Like tulips reaching for the sun on a snowy Easter morning, this boy’s family is seeing a miraculous glimmer of hope at the end of a long winter.

We hope Patrick’s turn will come soon, too. But whatever the outcome, this Easter I am grateful for the hope that brings springtime to my snowy days.. and for the knowledge of the atonement and resurrection of my Savior.