Second Chance

“You have less than five months to live.”

The violent blow set off an alarm in my head that blustery day in March 2002.

I was dying of liver disease. For two years the doctor had tried different medications to cure the disease eating away at my liver and now he was telling me the treatment failed. I gulped in all the air in the room hoping to prolong life beyond his words.

“All I can do now is put you on a waiting list. This is your only hope for survival,” he explained.

“A waiting list?”

“Yes, a transplant list.”

“No, it’s not a transplant list, it’s a death list,” I said. “I’m on a list waiting for someone to die so that I can live.”

“Basically, he said. The sympathy in his eyes annoyed me.

He made another prediction.

“There are 1400 Texans waiting for a liver, and it’s likely you’ll die waiting.” My only hope for survival–how absurd. He put me on the list and I went on with life. I was not about to give up that easy.

Things looked pretty hopeless for me. As I had done other times in the past, I put this catastrophe in God’s hands and prayed for a miracle.

Miracles do happen.
Unlike other transplant patients, I didn’t have to wait for a cadaver to get a new lease on life. In September of 2002, my youngest daughter saved my life.

The surgeons took a lobe of my daughter’s liver and implanted it in my body. What is so miraculous is the capacity of the liver to regenerate to a fully functioning organ after it has been divided. Both of our partial livers grew to a complete organ. She, like other donors, is the epitome of self-sacrifice, and unselfish giving. This child, that I gave life too, had now given me life. With that done, I became liver transplant patient #73 at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver, Co.

But not everyone is blessed to have a living donor. Today there are 1600 on the waiting list. The quest to obtain organs and tissue is endless. About 21 people die every day waiting for transplants because of the shortage of donated organs.Unfortunately, donor blessings are often concealed behind the veil of overwhelming grief. I know that when an unexpected tragedy strikes a loved one, anguish is all consuming. The miracle of transplant is one thing–but having the vocabulary to address the grieving survivors is another. There is no easy way to approach people in this situation. It is important then, that before tragedy strikes anyone of us, that we keep our words and our actions human by giving permission beforehand that contributes to the legacy of life. This gesture of love keeps the surviving family from feeling victimized. Donors are heroes, they give hope to thousands awaiting the transplant they need to enter into a new Genesis.

We all have the capability to make life possible for others. It’s incredible but one donor can potentially save eight lives and improve the lives of 50 others. Our potential is so awesome. Donors affirm my faith in the basic human desire to help others even beyond life. I wouldn’t ask anybody to do what I wouldn’t do. I’m a registered donor. Although my liver is no longer usable, I have a heart, lungs, bone, skin, tendons, cornea etc. that I can contribute to a waiting recipient.

I share my story to give hope to those that wait in anticipation of a second chance and to encourage those of us that have the potential to brighten someone’s future. Leave behind the gift of life. Register today at organdonor.gov/register or at your local DMV–give your driver’s license a heart.

It’s been 16 years since I walked into the doctor’s office that blustery day in March 2002.

Death Sculpts me

In 2002, I received a liver transplant. I was in the end stage of liver disease. My doctor put me on a “waiting” list. It’s so sad, I thought. What the waiting list means is that I’m waiting for someone to die so that I can live. Someone, unwilling would make a great sacrifice for me. When someone makes such a huge sacrifice we can’t be so casual about life and yet we are.
The casualness of sacrifice came into my mind this morning as I spent time with the author of my life. It’s through his death, I gain eternal life. My sinful nature put him on the waiting list. When life weighs me down when I feel enough is enough! When I ask why? Why? I have to admit to his ultimate sacrifice. It’s the sacrifice that consumes negativity, pessimism, and hopelessness. My addictions, my bad behavior, the casualness of life are on the waiting list. Death sculpts me. #sculpt#liver#life#endstage#sacrifice#addictions#list

Litany of monkier arouses Suspicion

Times have changed.

In this world of uncertainty and chaos skepticism is rampant. Someone is watching us. I found out when I tried picking up my prescription. The pharmacy staff couldn’t find my script. They discovered i had four different profiles and a new employee created a fifth one. All this commotion is the result of others spelling my name incorrect. In the past I tried to fix this error but the attempt was futile. People continue to willy-nilly my name. Having a litany of names attached to me arouses suspicion. I don’t need to get into details as to the, “why” of it. I’m sure we can all agree it’s not a wise choice to have a list of monikers attached to you.

I’m on a name quest. It’s an adventure I didn’t anticipate–all my life I’ve been known as, “Suzana<” aka “Suzi.” My parents and siblings called me Suse (emphasis on the “e”) and Suzana forewarned me of the impending chancla if I didn’t change my attitude quick. It’s in the Spanish pronunciation of Suzana that most non-Spanish speakers get lost (even now spell check wants me to spell it Suzanna).

I don’t have my birth certificate and “No” i have never been out of the country. I can’t remember having to use it for any reason. Back in the day we didn’t have to prove ourselves like we do now. Recently I came upon my baptismal certificate.
I’m flabbergasted! Since it’s highly confidential, for obvious reasons, I won’t tell you the names, yes names on it. One thing I can say for sure; I’m not related to some rich and famous somebody. I’m a native of New Mexico but now I’m not sure where I was born–somewhere in the great Land of Enchantment. I’m thinking I’m an entity from the flying saucer that crash-landed in the Roswell desert in 1947.

It’s research time. The Department of Vital Records in Santa Fe is somewhat helpful. It’s the names on the baptismal certificate complicating my efforts.

As I wait for the search and rescue of my identity I will answer to Suzana aka Suzi

On January 3, 2014, Amarillo experienced an Indian Summer-like day. For me, it symbolized a promise, a prelude of a exciting and blessed year.

I ran errands early in the morning and by eleven only one item remained on my to do list. It was a pleasant 70 degrees. Light in spirit, intoxicated by the essence of the day and Knee-deep in sunshine, I arrived at my last stop; Walgreen’s.  I picked up my prescription. With an extra bounce in my stride I walked across the parking lot to my car.  My head full of plans for the upcoming weekend. Suddenly I’m fighting gravity but to no avail. I crashed. I don’t know what happened…I just fell.

Utter humiliation!

Good Samaritans quickly came to my rescue. They couldn’t help me up. The excruciating pain demanded I stay put. The ambulance towed me off to Baptist St. Antony’s Hospital. Family members waited on me to arrive at the ER. After several ex-rays the doctors gave us an incredulous diagnoses. I shattered my left knee and broke both elbows. I didn’t want to ask the common question asked, when adversity strikes, but like a vulture it swirled around in my head, “Why me Lord?  Why?” Although I didn’t ask it, the question lingered.

As I had done many times before, I put this calamity in God’s hands. I trusted the Lord to walk with me through this inconvenience. It took 11 screws and a plate to repair my broken knee and the surgery went well. The therapist were truly heaven-sent.  My recovery, at the hospital, surprised my family and medical team. After 21 days in the hospital, I went home. I survived the fall and all that came with it, but the enemy isn’t easily dissuaded. Life isn’t simply about surviving; the greater and most important part of life is thriving. This is where the real work is done and it’s messy.

I thought I was on easy street, when I got discharged from the hospital. Not until I got home did I feel the degree of my infirmity. I was helpless to do much of anything for myself and even less capable of helping out around the house.  I’m not sure when my focus on Hebrews 1:11 got pushed out of mind, but it did. I woke up one morning and the silhouette of my wheelchair, against the bedroom window, threw me into a frenzy. I felt worthless. Why live only to exist?

“Be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26) but I was angry. With two broken arms and a busted knee I didn’t have many options. Suffering this way just seemed so unfair. I went to the book of Job looking for a solution. Actually, I went looking for a short cut. I wanted to go from A to Z with as little effort as possible. I needed to feel the promise of, “By His stripes you have been healed.” I wanted something tangible.  I didn’t find a solution and as a matter of fact the epilogue in the last chapter of the book has a fairy-tale ending. But you know what, the fairy-tale ending caused me to take another look at the book of Job.  Gosh who doesn’t like a happily ever after ending? It gave me hope.  My struggling faith needed a boost and hope is a great catalyst.

In the book of Job, I saw a reflection of my struggling faith. When everything in life goes well and much to my plan, my faith pays great honor to God. In suffering, I should be able to pay greater honor to Him because he is God, but I wimped out.   Instead I let the, “Why,” take the upper hand.  I could deal better with my situation if only God would explain, “Why I have to suffer so,”  Not too long ago after hearing about my dilemma, a woman said to me, “Sounds like God has a bone to pick with you.”  “Yes, Yes”, I thought enthusiastically.  That statement sounded so good to me. Finally someone on my side. Let’s look at my enthusiasm for what it really is–an excuse to continue with my pity party.

As my faith spiraled chaotically, so did my trust in God. Can you see my insanity? Satan was using my mental state to destroy my relationship with the Lord. Many times I couldn’t pray. Oh, what the heck let me be honest. I didn’t want to pray. I ranted and raved.  I tried to force God’s hand. I kept showering him with my expectations. The essence, the presence of God departed. For weeks I spent my time alone in the wilderness of God’s silence. Exhausted I put my temper tantrum aside.  I waited to regain strength then in the stillness He said, “Hey it’s going to be okay. I’m here. Trust me.” It’s so simple, yet I complicate things by being stubborn in how I think God should treat me. My job is to place my suffering before God as an offering rather than demand that he take it away.

Just as God didn’t depart from Job, He didn’t depart from me. It’s in my human frailties that I set up the barriers, barriers, that make it seem that God just up and leaves. I truly believed God had a bone to pick with me. Through the book of Job, I came to the realization that suffering is the result of spiritual conflict that I don’t get to experience. The conflict in the spiritual world is real and is continuously going on.

In the beginning of the book Satan is creating all kinds of drama. He boldly crashes an angelic meeting the Lord is hosting. When God asks him where he has been, Satan just can’t resist bragging about his successes in the world. Satan believes that we serve God only when things are going well in our lives. He has the audacity to tell God that if He were to take everything from me (Job) that I will curse him to his face.

God takes on this challenge. And the Lord said to Satan, behold she is in your hand; only spare her life. Imagine my humility when I realized that God believes in me, that he trusts me and has faith in me. He knows I have the heart of a warrior. The creator of all, the author of my life sheds grace upon grace on me.  He is all in. He doesn’t straddle the fence like I do. He gives me so much more than the pittance I give Him.  As long as Satan goes against the government of God’s kingdom, I will be God’s proving ground. Now when suffering comes to me as it will, I can with great joy bring it before His throne as an offering.

Fred G. Zaspel, author of, Lessons for Those Who Suffer, asks, “Do you see the point? When you find yourself in suffering, do you still trust God? Or do you feel that he owes you an explanation? It does no honor to God to trust Him only when we understand fully what he is doing. That is not faith at all. It honors Him when we trust Him implicitly.  When with Job we can say with heart of love, ‘though He slay me, yet will I trust him’ (13:15). This is what honors Him.” My passion is to honor God and to do so in my writing, eating, sleeping, and in all the small and big things. I want to honor Him in my suffering rather than question what I don’t understand. In the face of suffering I will stand boldly and know that in doing so I can overcome the enemy.

Finally, I saw my suffering as God’s offer to a new level of faith. I released my hold on self-pity and stepped over the threshold into a higher trust. 2014 is my year of transformation and spiritual growth. He has given me a testimony to share with others that suffer and it is my hope that they will too go through a transformation worthy our unchangeable God. He is ever with me and He is in control. To be healed I have to change. There will be other times of adversity and I will always be his proving ground. As with Job, the testing of my faith developed perseverance. I am equipped, convicted and committed.

DON’T LET LIFE BECOME AN EXCUSE.

A whispered Command

I had declined supper Friday night since I felt so nauseous. When I woke the next morning, Saturday, December 23, 2007 the aroma of coffee set my stomach to churning. Light-headed, I tottered to the bathroom. The volcano in my stomach violently erupted, spewing blood on the wall behind the toilet. I braced myself as the next bloody explosion assailed the white tile once again.
Then came the final upheaval–this time finding its mark in the toilet. My daughter, a nuclear medicine tech surveyed what now resembled a slaughterhouse and sprang into action. She communicated the situation to the 911 operator all the while calmly giving instructions to the other adults in the house. Despite the wind, icy roads and a thirty-car pileup on I-40, paramedics swiftly responded.
In the emergency room, the momentum picked up as human hands worked diligently to stop the bleeding from ruptured varacices in my esophagus. The life-saving pandemonium grated on my nerves. All I wanted was to be left alone.
Suddenly a peaceful light enveloped me, carrying me beyond the recognizable dimensions of the earth. It released me from a web of misery into vast nothingness. As the doctors and medical staff worked on me steadfast I journeyed further into the brilliance. This radiance filled the immense emptiness. Released from the shackles of my earthly flesh, I sank into its pearly beauty as I transformed into a resplendent creation. Elated I floated aimlessly and alone through an absolute peaceful silence. How could such an unfamiliar place seem so right? I drifted through the light enjoying serene comfort. Its refreshing solitude embraced me.
I heard subtle breathing. No longer alone, I wondered, “Who?” I didn’t see anyone, but I felt a presence. Then the breath spoke to me in an unrecognizable voice–without earthly qualities. So graceful, so smooth, so impassioned this burning voice. My ears were useless. The voice consumed my entire being.
“Breathe,” it gently commanded. I yielded to the loving, compelling voice.
As I obeyed, the light started fading like the setting sun. “Don’t go,” I tried to speak, but the tube in my throat prevented me from uttering a word.

Pain and discomfort attacked my body as the glow surrounding me gave way to the fluorescence of the emergency room. I thought about the soothing light that released me from all my suffering. I belonged to the blissful brilliance. This special light filled me with overwhelming joy and peace. Shadows moved about. A hazy apparition at the foot of the bed came into focus. My daughters huddled together. Grief etched their faces. The discord of the medical staff and insignificant quibbling annoyed me. The doctor’s agitated voice barked commands, “stabilize her now! We’re trying but the line isn’t working,” an apprehensive voice replied. Mystified by the astonishing encounter, I knew all would end well.

“Things happen for a reason.” This mantra is overused but effective in explaining what humans can’t comprehend.  Saturday morning, December 23, 2007 happened for a reason. What began as a chaotic, life-threatening day quickly shifted into a glorious and unforgettable experience.

Did I make it to heaven? I don’t think so. Perhaps I journeyed to the portal of God’s heavenly home. I didn’t hear cymbals and trumpets or angels’ singing praises announcing my arrival. I believe God reserves that for his beloved actually entering his kingdom.

He allowed me to taste the promised joy of the resurrection.

I am heavenly positioned.

The Unseen Head

On September 17th, I’ll celebrate a decade of life. Ten fruitful years made possible by the selfless gift of a living donor.

As a liver Transplant patient I have experienced the miracle of modern medicine. Diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1998, I encountered an unknown and frightening adversary. Overwhelmed, by the diagnoses, I didn’t want to share this with my daughters or with anyone else. To keep quiet, I thought, meant I could keep my life from chaos.

How does a person with a chronic illness re-organize life? The disease is a major source of stress. I found I couldn’t do it alone. A social support system is vital. Finally, in March of 2002, I got bold enough to tell my daughters, “The doctor says I have less than five months to live.” And then I did what I had done so many times in the past, I put this calamity in God’s hand.

As the Hepatitis C advanced to end-stage liver disease the concept of death moved to the forefront. Then God showed up. With the sand of time trickling out for me, God’s mighty hand inverted the hourglass to begin time again. With three days to spare, I received my new liver at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. It is with gratitude and admiration that I thank the wonderful doctors and the entire transplant team. But my greatest tribute goes the Author of my life and to the angels he gave charge over me–my tenacious and most fantastic daughters.

Over-coming adversity is more than surviving. It is Thriving, for it measures the quality of life. The key is to love your life in the darkest moments–even the bed of an invalid has potential.

Surviving The “Password” Jungle.

Seriously thinking of turning my username and password list into a poem. These are two of the most inconvenient steps in my internet life. It’s so bad I go through a litany of pet names and kid’s nicknames trying to remember what name goes with which website.

Annoying.

But now the U.S. Commerce Dept. is looking at some options that experts say will eliminate the password tangle. The idea is to use a single sign-in by using a device like a digital token, a smartcard or a fingerprint reader. Once you log in, you have access to any website that has signed up for the program. In essence, you are your password.

There is so much that could be done if the public could trust transactions more. For example, a trusted online ID might encourage doctors to prescribe drugs electronically.

I’m for a universal standard and saying, “Bye-bye” to all my passwords.

If you feel you’re in a password jungle, stop in and let me know your thoughts.

From Chronic Illness to Mental Patient.

“Usually patients with a chronic illness become mental illness patients,” my doctor commended. “I’m in awe as to how well you tolerate your disease.” Are you kidding, I think to myself. I’m in awe that I’m still alive. But don’t you think for a minute doc that I don’t get the insanity slump.

I have hepatitis C and in 2002 at the end stage of liver disease I was blessed with a liver transplant. Therefore, I understand how chronically sick people can become mentally ill. A chronic disease is a daily burden on the physical, emotional, and mental self. The daily routine of surviving can drag you down. Staying in bed, not leaving the house or staying away from projects that can help you forget your suffering is easier than striving for a “normal” life. Through my adversity I have discovered a concept that makes me more than a mere survivor. It’s the ability to thrive. I don’t allow my illness to dominate me. Instead I saturate my mind with positive thoughts. I surround myself with positive and faith-filled people. Faith counteracts the debilitating effects of sickness, fear or worry.

I have this in “your face” relationship with God that makes all the above doable. I constantly remind him of all the promises he has made to me through scripture. My expectations are always that he will act on them.
Right before Thanksgiving an MRI revealed tumors on my liver. Immediately I rebuked the growth of tumors and reminded God of the promise in Mark. 11:24 that anything I believed and asked for in prayer I would receive. It turns out that the duct that carries out the bile from the liver had collapsed. I had a pocket of bile (toxins) that wasn’t draining. I’ve had a procedure to correct the collapsed bile duct.

I make my way through the “normal” world by making positive and optimistic choices.
I keep my hands full of cooking, cleaning and holding babies.
I keep my mind busy praising God, writing poetry and listening.
I keep my body strong volunteering in my community.
I keep my soul fed with living, loving and laughing.
Can’t wait on time for flesh to heal, mind to spin and soul to thrill.
I thrive.

A True Thriver

In 1999, at the age of 65, Dave Longaberger died of renal cell cancer.  He was more than a mere survivor. He was a thriver. Like a candle in the dark his light-hearted attitude illuminated his life and the lives of those around him. Dave had epilepsy, stuttered and had a learning disorder. He repeated the first grade, three-peated the fifth grade and finally graduated at the age of twenty-one.

What is extraordinary about Dave is his entrepreneurial spirit. He took the family’s struggling basket-building business and turned it into a 525 million dollar company. Dave didn’t allow adversity to hinder him, instead used it to become strong and resourceful. The trademark of a thriver is the ability to take what life hands them and run with it.

Who’s Stressed??

It’s over (sigh).  Christmas is over. It seems that everyone I talk too is glad Christmas is over, yet they tell about what a wonderful holiday it was and how they enjoyed it. So why are we glad Christmas is over? Perhaps because we make it so much about ourselves. In most homes the Christmas decorations are packed and put away before the Epiphany Jan. 6th). I believe that Christmas Day and the Epiphany are so closely knit that I can’t have one without the other. But that’s me. The Christmas we are comfortable with is the one that stress us out. It stresses the pocket book, the calendar, the mind, and the body.  I guess we are ok with it because it’s self-inflicted. However, Christmas is not about us. For many of us it is the birthday of the Son of God. When you talk about stress at this time of the year we should think of Mary and Joseph. Now that was stress. It’s time for Mary’s baby to be born. They are away from home and family.  She has no bed, no doctor and no place to stay. Even the Magi were stressed. Old Herod instructed them to let him know where this King of Kings was so he could make a trip to visit him, but we know his real intentions.  We can eliminate the Christmas stress when we focus on the true meaning of Christmas.   Yes, Christmas is all about us.