Chapter Twenty Four: Auto-Transplant Day.

“Your greatest interruption may be your greatest opportunity.” -Pastor Adrian Mills. 

As I shared in my last post, my auto-transplant surgery had been approved by insurance, the trip to Wisconsin had been made, and the pre-op appointments were finished. After months of waiting, planning, praying, and preparing it was time for the final step…. the auto-transplant surgery itself. 

Just as God had done with my Left Renal Vein Transposition surgery, He again granted me the priceless gift of an inexplicable peace that truly surpassed all understanding. The night before my surgery, a childhood friend sent me the song “Peace” by Hillsong Young and Free. I immediately made it my anthem and listened to it nonstop. I listened to it as I ate my dinner, I listened to it as I fell asleep, I listened to it as I packed my bag for the hospital, I listened to it as I washed my scarred abdomen with antibacterial soap, and I listened to it as I read through the social media posts countless friends had written asking everyone they knew to storm the gates of heaven with prayers on my behalf. 

When we arrived at the hospital, I wasn’t feeling the emotions quite yet. I felt almost robotic as we filled out paperwork, processed the insurance, met with the surgical team, placed my epidural, and went through the entire pre-op process. It felt routine, familiar. And when various times came where it felt far too familiar—and Lord knows there were those times—I would gird myself in the armor of God and repeat those lyrics of truth: 

“There’s a peace far beyond all understanding, may it ever set my heart at ease. Dare anxiety come, I’ll remember that peace is a promise You keep.” 

And when it was time to say goodbye to my parents, to climb into the hospital bed, to be wheeled down unfamiliar hallways by strangers telling me it was all going to be okay, to enter the operation room filled with sterile medical tools, bright lights, and the smell of antiseptic, I continued to repeat the lyrics as an anthem over my trembling body, mind, and heart. 

“You are peace to a restless soul, peace when my thoughts wage war, peace to the anxious heart, peace when my fear takes hold, peace when I feel enclosed, that’s who You are.” 

Over, and over, and over again I repeated those lyrics as if my life depended on it—and maybe my emotional life did—until they finally placed the mask over my face and I succumbed to the welcome darkness of oblivion of what was about to happen in that operating room. 

And as I drifted off to sleep I couldn’t help but thank God that this time, there was absolutely no part of me that secretly wished I wouldn’t  wake up. 

5C32E3B9-47A6-48A4-9736-F4B7BEB67DCE

__________________________________________________________________

Something wasn’t right, and I knew it as soon as I woke up. I knew because I’d been through this before, and this wasn’t the typical post-op routine. It wasn’t normal for my parents not to be allowed into my room yet, for my requests to see them to be denied, or to have two nurses and two doctors in my room. It wasn’t normal to be taken to an MRI at 2am, to have my epidural quickly removed, or for the doctors to repeatedly ask, “can you try and lift your arms for me. No? Okay… Can you wiggle your fingers? No? Okay…. Can you feel me touching here? No? Okay….” Even in my exhausted and drugged state, I knew something definitely wasn’t right, but all I could do was succumb to sleep.  

B528E7B9-837A-456B-98B1-B877DE327E97

____________________________________________________________________

The surgery itself—as far as we knew at the time—went great! We found out I’m part of 17% of the population who has two renal vein arteries. This made the surgery a bit more complicated for my surgical team, but they were fantastic and handled it like pros. While my post-op recovery was quite challenging, it definitely wasn’t the complete hell I’d been warned it would be! Although I still dealt with excruciating back and incisional pain, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d anticipated. In fact, I was able to sit up in bed the morning after surgery, and was even walking the halls by my second evening in the hospital! My first surgical incision hadn’t healed properly, and UW had promised they would do everything they could to reconstruct it with my new incision. When I saw it for the first time, I wanted to cry tears of joy! There was absolutely no abdominal bruising, no swelling, and no blood! In the words of my surgeon, “it was a masterpiece”! While my nausea and vomiting was worse than it had been with my last surgery, my medical team was quick to come up with medications and solutions that allowed me to hold down both liquids and solids by the time I left the hospital! Since I had lost around fifteen pounds, this was a huge blessing for weight gain! All in all, the difference between this surgery and the last was like day and night. It shocked us! The expertise and quality of care was superior in every way, and the drastic difference in my health proved it. With every day that passed, I knew more and more that every ounce of effort it took to get me there was oh so worth it! 

But while nobody knew it yet, we were dealing with an unexpected, scary post-surgical complication. When I woke up from surgery, both of my arms were completely paralyzed. 

While several scary explanations were brought to the table, we were confidently assured that testing showed that no permanent damage had been done and I would eventually regain full function in both arms! Phew! Although the MRI had shown some minor blood buildup around the spine, the primary cause was ruled as my arm placement during the surgery. Basically, my arms had “fallen asleep” while I was on the operating table, and because I wasn’t able to feel it and therefore adjust them accordingly, it was going to take them quite a bit longer to “wake up.” My medical team worked to craft the best treatment plan possible. Stimulative exercises were required two times daily, we immediately started occupational therapy in the hospital, and continued outpatient sessions multiple times per week following my release. By the time I was discharged, I had regained almost full function of my right arm and both of my hands! We rejoiced in my progress, but were concerned my left arm still hadn’t made any improvement. While we were assured it was temporary, the recovery time kept extending longer and longer. It went from one week, to three weeks, to three months. 

In the weeks that followed, I continued to make slow but sure progress. I conquered a raging infection, persisted through my daily occupational therapy exercises, walked the hotel halls, slept as much as possible, worked through pain management, ate little bits as I could, and did my very best to take things day by day, moment by moment, through His grace and strength alone. After a few weeks, I had my temporary stent removed. It was an intense, painful procedure and unfortunately I was wide awake for the entire thing! I’m embarrassed to say that I was so nervous going into it that my blood pressure and pulse were unreadable, haha! But once it was out, the urologist said something I’ll never forget: “Congraulations, Grace! You’re last major medical procedure ever is over!” 

Wow. 

As the day went on, I pondered that statement in depth along with my biggest, most exciting revelation yet:

Since the moment I’d woken up from surgery, I hadn’t experienced any of the daily, chronic, excruciating pre-op pain I’d battled for years. None. Not one little iota. 

While my focus had been surviving surgical recovery moment by moment and I hadn’t been able to truly process what that meant yet, I took a moment, closed my eyes, and allowed it all to sink in. 

The hope I had clung to for the last three years wasn’t in vain and was finally paying off.

God was using my greatest interruption for my greatest opportunity. 

4EC846DD-2105-4514-A2CC-9E2DBA87D6F8

____________________________________________________________________

Last month I visited a church with my best friend and the Pastor’s message was, “your greatest interruption may be your greatest opportunity.”

Will you join me in thinking about the weight of that statement for just a second?

He tied it to the story of Joseph in Jesus’ birth. When Mary approached Joseph to inform him of her pregnancy, Joseph was not only engaged, but betrothed to her. In those days, betrothal was considered marriage (but without the martial benefits) and required an actual divorce to dissolve. Of course, due to these circumstances Joseph knew it definitely wasn’t his child, and in the span of about sixty seconds his entire world was completely rocked. As far as he knew, the woman he loved had been unfaithful in some way and was therefore pregnant with another man’s child. But despite this, Joseph made a practical plan to shield both of them from public shame and humiliation. He resolved to “put Mary away quietly,” therefore protecting not just himself but Mary and the unborn child, too. 

But as he was assembling his plan, “behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from His sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21.) 

While we don’t often think about this particular story from his perspective, Joseph’s life was drastically interrupted. In this moment, he doesn’t comprehend the magnitude of this birth. He doesn’t comprehend that this is God breaking 400 years of silence to His people. He doesn’t comprehend he has been chosen to be apart of the greatest miracle ever known to the history of mankind. All Joseph knows is that the love of his life is pregnant, it definitely isn’t his, and a dream told him that she somehow conceived from the Holy Spirit. 

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a hecka lot to handle! 

So what does Joseph do?

Matthew 1:24 tells us, “when Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife.” 

____________________________________________________________________

This talk about interruptions and bumps in the road has made me pause and reflect on the last four years…..especially my health journey.

Did God’s plan hurt? Yes. Was God’s plan scary? Absolutely. Did it always make sense to me? No. Was I able to comprehend it? Absolutely not….not even close. 

But you know what? As I type this blog post, I can still say with absolute confidence that it was so worth it. I developed priceless new relationships, grew exponentially in my walk with Christ, fell more in love with Jesus than I ever could’ve imagined to be possible, learned more than I could ever fathom, had opportunities to bless and pour into others, established my testimony, and in the process even met “the one” and got engaged to name a few! I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I wouldn’t be where I am today without my health journey and the endless ways it shaped me. My health journey was without a doubt my greatest interruption, but to this day has been my greatest opportunity, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. 

Maybe you’re reading this, and you aren’t going through anything “major” in your life right now. But I believe this message still applies. You see, our lives are filled with constant interruptions, roadblocks, and inconveniences. Just when you don’t need another expense, something breaks. On the one day you’re running late, traffic is worse than usual. On your busiest week, you get the flu. When you’re in the middle of cleaning the kitchen, your child is making their own personal version of the Mona Lisa on your living room wall. I could go on and on and on. If you’re like me, you may not always handle them with grace and poise. In fact, sometimes you may handle them quite poorly. But although these interruptions are often unexpected and unplanned, they are never meaningless events. They are divinely placed in our lives for a specific reason, and never catch God off guard. The truth is, God isn’t always going to work in our lives through a huge, life-changing circumstance. In fact, more often than not it’ll probably be the ten thousand smaller, seemingly meaningless frustrations and interruptions in our lives that He uses to give us opportunities to rely on, obey, and trust Him. 

Joseph was a man who had absolutely incredible faith. As a result, he trusted and obeyed….even when it made absolutely no sense! I’m sure it certainly wasn’t easy, but he still obeyed. I’m sure a part of him felt crazy, but he still obeyed. I’m sure he was judged and critiqued, but he still obeyed. I’m sure he had doubts sometimes, but he still obeyed. 

As we know now, Jesus grew up to perform countless miracles, raise people from the dead, heal the sick, make the blind see, the deaf hear, and most of all sacrifice and save every single one of us. 

While he may have never known the full magnitude of his trust and obedience in God here on earth, Joseph’s interruption ended up being not only his greatest opportunity, but the greatest opportunity for all of humanity….all because he trusted and obeyed. 

Whoa.

So, from this day forward, in matters both great and small, I want to carry the story of Joseph and the reflection of the years before close to my heart as I ask myself two very important questions:

Will it always be easy? Nope. 

Will I always obey? Absolutely.

Because sometimes what we have planned isn’t always what God has purposed. 

& that’s more than okay. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s