New Blood

Written by Richard Drebert

©Good Catch Publishing

Blood trickled slowly from my body, and I shifted impatiently, eyes shut tight.

Four hours left.

Compressors, engines, pumps — I’d always worked machines, but this one was working me. I sat, at its “droning” mercy, helpless, like a fidgety mannequin. A nurse in drab green and heavy white shoes monitored freakish dials as the apparatus sucked blood from my neck, digested it, then expelled it into my body again, bright red and “kidney clean.”

Doctors at Virginia Mason Medical Center had pronounced sentence months ago — dialysis — while dangling the possibility of finding a healthy kidney for me someday.

I was on a waiting list, and my wife and I resigned to cautious hope and recalled our last disappointment.

Sacrificing an organ isn’t like giving up a Royal Caribbean cruise to pay someone’s back taxes or dipping into a 401(k) to help pay a friend’s debt — so finding a live donor is rare. Most wait until they’re stone cold before giving up a kidney.

But my little sister, Dawn, didn’t wait. Her heart was tender toward me, because she bore the same inner scars as me, healed over, but distinct within our identities. Our childhood was ruined, then rebuilt helter-skelter, without blueprints. At least that’s what it felt like until hindsight years later cast a new light on reality.

The surgeon had discovered a small cyst on one of Dawn’s kidneys, and her selfless gift of an organ could not be used. Due to my weakening health, my doctor refused to risk any complications, and my only path to survival now lay in dialysis. Each session would buy me about two days of life.

Over the months sitting in “the chair” at Virginia Mason, I had a lot of time to think about my past …

***

Dad was an old-school fire and brimstone preacher, who had changed his selfish ways about the time that my mother threatened to divorce him. With six children, Dad’s folks had migrated cross-country from Oklahoma to Texas and then set down roots in California. Dad was 18 when he married Mom, who was only 16, and when I was around 2 years young, we moved from Oakland to a ramshackle house near my father’s parents in a town called Willits. Willits had been founded by tough-minded ranchers in the 1850s, and the heritage fit my grandparents to a tee, as well as my dad — but Mom was unhappy. They divorced.

One morning Dad unwittingly set us on a troubled highway to confusion. The divorce was bad enough, but wresting us from our mother and home set my vulnerable baby sister and me on a treacherous “spiritual” freeway, unprepared. The California authorities didn’t call absconding with your own children “kidnapping” in those days, but Mom would have debated the issue.

Before the event, our parents had lived separately for some weeks, and Dawn and I felt secure in the old house with Mom. Dad came sometimes to visit us, and one day he really wasn’t himself — he was too jolly, too hasty — and Mom should have known something was up. Dawn and I piled into his Dodge Charger, as happy as two 3 and 4 year olds could be, for a grand overnight adventure with Daddy. I waved back at Mom, standing by her white Chevy Nova, perplexed and alone.

Dad hit the freeway in his Charger like he was being pursued by Steve McQueen. Dad’s favorite flick before he got religion was Bullit, and we burned up the freeway and holed up at my aunt and uncle’s house in Fresno, en route to the California State line. Before we left Fresno, Dad traded his beloved blue and white Charger for a green nondescript van.

Open windows couldn’t drain the stress, worry and fear from our van. We galloped toward the Lone Star State, crammed among travel provisions, and yanking a trailer behind us. Dawn fell into inconsolable weeping spells the farther we moved from her routines and our mother, but Dad never let up on the pedal.

When Mom finally caught onto Dad’s deception, she poured out her grief to police, but little could be done; jurisdiction for any alleged crime stayed on the California side of the border, at least for the time being. But Mom didn’t give up. I’ll never know what she said, but she doggedly carried her case up the ladder of authority until Dad was no longer safe anywhere. He became wanted for questioning in the California case of allegedly stolen children.

Through the eyes of a 4-year-old, life around him is BIG, scary and uncertain in brand-new places. A sense of unearthly fear fastened upon me, and at night, parked in church parking lots or in dreary motels, I watched Dawn thumping her teary red face in a pillow over and over, crying, “Mama. Mama. Mama …”

It seemed Mother had abandoned us, and I cried, too, wondering where she was and where I was.

Grampa James and Gramma Rose joined our odyssey somewhere in Texas, and we traveled freeways north, crammed in Dad’s van like disaster refugees — clothing, suitcases, bedding and five of us. Somewhere along the way, I recall Dawn and I being “dedicated to God” at a church altar, and we even got flags so we would remember it — but Gramma Rose took them so we wouldn’t ruin them. Perhaps these symbols were somehow meaningful to this strange journey, so Gramma “kept” them for us.

My birthday came and went, and Dad enrolled me in different schools for kindergarten classes whenever we stopped at towns for any length of time. In Colorado, a teacher gave me a massive plastic key, the hall pass to the toilet down the corridor. I froze in terror, peeing my pants before I left class: My little brain imagined that the big key belonged to an ugly giant man, who opened the bathroom door for kids — and I was petrified to meet him with his key.

Somewhere on our cross-country odyssey, I began to stutter, my words tumbling over more expected “bad things” that I was unprepared to face. We had traveled as far as the Canadian border and drifted down to Utah, like an errant flock of geese, and sure enough, it happened: Dad just disappeared one day from a motel where we were staying.

In the morning, Gramma Rose absent-mindedly poured an enormous bowl of Cheerios for me, and my eyes got wide — no way could I eat it all, and I knew how Gramma scorned a single drip of cereal left in my bowl. She and Grampa were arguing, too, strung tight over something that had happened.

All morning, Dawn and I had been asking, “Gramma, where’s Dad?” and she had ignored us. Now Gramma stood us up together near the motel door and frowned, like she was licking a lemon.

“We’re giving you kids back to your mother. Your mama is with a man named Sam now — and you hear me now — you kids are not to call him Dad, EVER!”

Our father had been arrested and sent to the county jail. Mom was on the way to Utah, as fast as Sam could drive her. They arrived within hours, in Mom’s big white Nova, and when she knelt down, arms stretched to us, Dawn never hesitated. She clamped her little arms round Mom’s neck so she could hardly breathe. But I stood like a lost duckling. This sudden shift in my universe confused me — again. Mom’s face was different. Tears carried dark mascara down her cheeks, and a man stood next to her with a phony grin, trying to be part of her happy sorrow. I gathered up our suitcases with “friendly” Sam, who tossed them into the Nova’s trunk. Dawn and I piled into the car for a sweaty nonstop ride west, back to California.

***

“You better run, kid!” The rascal who had smashed the moving car with hard-packed snowballs was already hopping the chain link fence, and I watched dumbly as the jacked-up mustang screeched in a tight arch. The driver hit the brakes.

“Why should I? I didn’t throw anything!” I cast back at the boy hiding in the brush, well out of harm’s way.

I faced the two young men stomping toward me, and before I could utter a single syllable of defense, I lay in a pool of icy mud, bleeding. I regained my senses and heard their car rumble away, then chuckling above my aching head. “Told ya! Ya should’a run …”

It was the beginning of a great friendship with Karl, but first I had to prove myself “bad enough” to join his trailer-park gang.

In Ukiah, California, the years with Mom had slipped past like the nearby Eel River, though my “journey of the absurd” still rippled in my consciousness, like a hidden undertow. I was almost 12 years old now, and Mom had divorced Sam. Our house had been repossessed, and we moved to Eel Trailer Park — much cheaper rent. Mom, suddenly single, attracted boyfriends to our house like honey to flies, while a monogram, Poor White Trash, sewed itself to my boyish persona. I began an intentional quest to find a compass to navigate the morass of adolescent emotions, and I picked up the Bible.

My father had dusted off his reputation in Willits and now co-pastored a church in the community where Gramma Rose had sometimes led revivals. Mom and Dad had brawled for months over child custody, and the courts had settled on giving Dad one weekend a month for visitation. He never missed collecting Dawn and me for church services, and we sat in the front pew with Gramma behind us, studying the backs of our heads. Her index finger was armed with a brass thimble, a perfect weapon for raising lumps when we dozed or misbehaved.

Over time, by proving himself trustworthy, Dad even got permission to fly with us to Hawaii for a Christian youth conference. It was at one of these meetings, amid coconuts and banana trees, that God’s reality touched my soul for the first time. I soaked in teaching about Jesus and contemplated this person that Gramma spoke to in prayer. She really “loved” him, I knew, but she also seemed to be petrified of his disapproval.

I struggled with a sense of inadequacy, too.

How in tarnation could I attain God’s heaven if Gramma worried about getting there? She was PERFECT!

Questions about the Bible started plaguing my mind, and I turned to my father for answers.

He looked grave as he said, “There are some things you shouldn’t ask, son.”

I took the rebuff as if it came directly from God and stopped reading the Bible.

My sister seemed to always struggle in school, and I faced ridicule for my stuttering during my elementary years. I prayed for God to take away my stammering, and a “miracle” appeared in the form of a teacher, Mrs. Fredricks. She alone understood how my low self-esteem manifested in the way I expressed my words, and for two grade levels, she challenged me to sing in choir, perform speaking parts in plays and give oral reports, until my confidence gradually dwarfed my fears, and the stuttering faded away.

***

Our unofficial gang “owned” the Eel River Trailer Park, and I broke into the troupe by performing “evil boy” deeds that matched theirs. Karl, the kid who had schooled me in the painful “hit-and-run” snowball incident, always pushed the limits of violence and payback. Soup was a year older than me, and Karl and he were thick as fish stew. Bob and I were the “thinkers” among the four of us, always considering consequences that might result in dealing with the law.

My relationships with these boys preserved me and scarred me at the same time. Their impact lasted long past our graduations from high school. We led Huck Finn lives in the summer, running wild along the Eel River, fishing and swimming. We set traps for raccoons along the Eel, but all we caught were neighborhood cats and skunks.

A railroad track separated our trailer park from the river, and our well-used footpaths wound through dense blackberry thickets and groves of oak trees. The Eel was our sanctuary, and we knew every inch by heart. At special spots like Turtle Rock, Big Hole or Yellow Rapids, we hatched glorious mischief — one of our favorites being the “purse trick.”

Our mothers discarded purses regularly, a little like shedding snake skins, and after a few sideways looks, they gave them up to their boys. A purse of red or green or yellow was so bright and tempting to a driver passing by our roadside trap that they couldn’t resist stopping to rifle through. At first we just tied fishing line to them. As the “thief” reached to satisfy lust for illicit treasure, we took turns yanking it out of his or her fingers.

The looks on their faces kept us well supplied with devilish mirth, until our new and better idea: “A dead cat staring up at ‘im from inside would really teach ‘im a lesson!”

Each of our victim’s expressions was priceless (the thief’s, that is) as the purse went flying.

When I was around 13, I met Artie, our trailer-park pot dealer, who happily gave up some of his stash to get us boys hooked. His faltering, slow-wit way of talking made me wonder if he needed speech therapy like I had endured, but when I started smoking with the boys, I understood. Weed slowed down the whitewater in life, and in a haze, I floated the Eel in uncaring languid pools.

One day we discovered a spring gushing near the river, and it dawned upon us that we didn’t need Artie for our “trips” anymore. From the local paving plant we stole a heavy-duty hose and dug under the railroad tracks to conceal it in a covered ditch. We borrowed gloves and shears and hollowed out a massive blackberry thicket, then dug pits that held our water piped from the spring.

We bought a few starts from Artie, and inside our blackberry hideout, “Oh! How our garden grew!” We never sold a leaf, but smoked it all ourselves, cutting down the tops so the leafy canopy wouldn’t attract notice above the brambles. We crammed plastic bags with dope for a never-ending supply.

During my trailer-park years, my boyish heart turned more and more toward drinking, pot and Playboy magazines and away from my father’s unattainable religious “perfection.” I decided that, like my mother, I had a standing reservation for hell, so I might as well set my course for the hottest swimming hole in God’s lake of fire.

When my mother remarried and moved to Washington State, I moved in with my dad so I didn’t have to leave my friends. (I usually climbed out the window to avoid Sunday lectures or pleas to attend church.) My emotions as a teenager were about as tangled as berry vines as I tried to find some inviting qualities among the religious folk.

A little “grace” actually did break through to give me pause sometimes: Gramma often prayed loud and strong at my bedroom door, and she invoked that name, “Jesus,” to save me. And Dad, too, showed a side of his Christian life that seemed real, sometimes. He had sold a car to a man and switched an older worn pair of tires before the buyer picked up the car from our yard later. When his conscience seared his brain, he drove 40 miles to make the deal right. No one would have been the wiser if he had just let it lie. His honesty impressed me, though I never said a word.

Perhaps Gramma and Dad knew something I didn’t, but I wouldn’t admit it.

Out of high school, my cronies and I caroused into our 20s. Karl ended up in trouble with the law for dealing drugs, and Soup was hot on Karl’s heels. Bob and I knew that prison time stalked anyone linked to dope, and we each decided upon a more acceptable path in society. I came within a hair’s breadth of joining the Marines — but acceptance into the fireman’s academy made more sense at the time.

“You’ll miss me when I’m in the ground, Pat.”

“Nope. What I’ll miss is your fried chicken …”

After Gramma died, I felt sorry I dueled with her so often, and I was privileged to build the casket for the matriarch of our family. I begged my aunt to dress Gramma in pants before her body was buried — it would have been sinful attire for her. I came so close to one-upping her, but my aunt refused to sully Gramma’s ideals. The whole dying thing angered me. Gramma was in heaven, and it bothered me that I could never play by her (or God’s) impossible rules. It was unfair.

***

My first marriage ended in a place as foreign to me as the Arctic. Marie’s people owned hundreds of acres of croplands, and we moved to Idaho in the early 90s, after the economy in the Bay Area ground to low gear. I had learned the construction trade after quitting the fire department, and the Idaho housing market was booming. The weather was frigid for months at a time, and my fingers never seemed to warm up wrapped around a cold hammer, but I worked as many hours as I could handle, and Marie’s nursing job paid well, too.

Even though we had a son together, Marie and I never really were in love — more like in lust. We stayed together because it was expected. We hauled a modular home onto a vacant potato field near her grandmother and set up housekeeping — until Marie decided that she needed more support in her life than I was able to give.

After I walked in on Marie’s boyfriend with her, in our new modular, I left her to tend the family spuds without me and moved to Mom’s new town in Washington State. I divorced Marie and planned to start fresh near where my sister lived in Yelm. They called Yelm the “Pride of the Prairie.”

***

“Pat, you have to meet her. And you should marry her!”

I had no intention of staying single, even if my father called divorce and remarriage a mortal sin, but my little sister was being ridiculous. My heart had just been trounced by a woman, and I needed time to heal up again — though a little female companionship would be nice.

Out of pure curiosity, I called Dawn’s “sainted” friend and somehow stumbled into a date. I had no designs on a lasting relationship, especially with a woman with a 3-year-old, but something about Karen drew me to her. In long conversations about our dysfunctional lives, she told me that she “knew” Jesus. I tried to spy out the intolerant “Christian” pedigree I saw stamped on my Gramma, but this woman treated Jesus as a friend and seemed to cling to him for survival. Karen was a nurturer, a caregiver, and she overflowed with a brand of spiritual mercy that I had never seen. This Christian believed that God loved her, despite her weaknesses — weaknesses I exploited.

I moved into her house in Lacey to help her pay expenses, and she seemed too good to be true! I was falling for a woman who truly loved me back, and her little boy, Jack, was growing on me. I knew that my own son in Idaho would be surrounded by Marie’s family, but I felt haunted by my rash decision to move away from him. I needed to set down roots with a good job and a home. I needed to start again.

Through Karen, God reached out to me with qualities far deeper than kindness. I felt unconditional love that I had never experienced before. Within a year, we were married and had our daughter. But though our vows meant “forever” to both of us, “happily ever after” eluded us almost from the beginning.

I began raising Jack without an instruction book — my way. Toughen him up. Make him toe the line. Don’t baby him! Our blended family troubles lurched across his adolescence in unhappy fits and starts. My stress in supervising crews building tract homes sent my blood pressure through the roof, and I started losing my hair over it; Karen added to my problems.

“I’d sure like to go to church, Pat.”

“Then go. I know what it’s all about, Karen. They’re hypocrites. And why do you think you’re goin’ to heaven, anyway? You smoke like a fiend!”

And I chewed tobacco, so I couldn’t attend church. God hated my habit, and my cussing, and my wandering eyes, and my drinking, and my short fuse, and …

I quit tobacco for the sake of my blood pressure. Karen quit smoking, and I actually did follow Karen to her home church — where I sat stunned. This was not church. No one sang any old hymns that I knew. And the preacher never screamed or ranted or spit. In fact, he just carried on a one-sided conversation with us about Jesus.

When the communion emblems were passed around, I knew I wasn’t ready to “partake of his body (a cracker), broken for me” or “to drink the wine (grape juice), a symbol of his blood.” To do so would mean that I was committed to Jesus, and I wasn’t, not by a long shot. I sat there confused, and I hated to admit it, but I liked what I was experiencing. I wanted more of what I was feeling.

Then one day, faith in my invincibility nearly spilled all over the doctor’s exam room floor.

“Pat, your kidneys are failing.” The man didn’t look me in the eye.

“What’s that mean?” I asked and felt like I did when I had to visit the giant with the hall pass.

“Too soon to say, but here are a couple scenarios …”

He finished up and rescheduled me for blood work before I left his office. At home I told Karen, and suddenly getting to know this Jesus that Karen served didn’t sound so unreasonable.

Jack loved his Sunday school teachers when we started attending Faith Assembly of Lacey. He wouldn’t hear of going anywhere else. And I wasn’t doing half bad as a “churchgoer,” either. Not much cussing; no chewing; no more drinking — I was d*** near “worthy” these days! And if I could maintain my spic-and-span spiritual life, maybe God would see fit to heal my kidneys. In the meantime, I decided to be useful in church somewhere (my dad had been obsessed with serving, so it was in my blood).

At the same time, my doctors decided that killing my hyperactive immune system before it destroyed my kidneys was worth a try. My muscle-bound antibodies seemed bent on murdering my organs, and they hoped that drug treatments might head off a life of dialysis.

Their prednisone immediately beat me to a pulp. From bench pressing sets of 250-plus pounds, I fell to barely able to lift the bar — without weights. I climbed stairs like a weakling chimp, on all fours, and I was trapped in my recliner until someone helped me up.

Sometimes when I drifted off to sleep, I wondered if I would awaken. And this is where Jesus finally started to get through to me. I began to feel convinced in my soul that God would open the gates of glory for me if I didn’t awaken in bed with my wife beside me tomorrow. This strange hope came from within me, somewhere amid old anger, worries and doubts. Jesus had been trying to get through to me since boyhood, when I asked him to be my Savior — and now suddenly I began to hear.

One morning at Faith Assembly, after Pastor Dan preached, I stood up and walked to the front of the church with other friends and neighbors who needed a touch from God. There I laid down all my old notions about what it was to be a Christian.

“Lord, I don’t care if you heal me or not. I just want to truly know you …”

I spoke to the Jesus Karen served now, and he heard me, a swollen, blood-tainted Christian. He held me long and hard in his powerful embrace, speaking softly to my soul: He loved the trailer-park boy, stoned on weed; he loved the confused young man building his gramma’s coffin; he loved the angry husband racing away from an unfaithful wife — and right now he loved the sick man who could no longer provide for his family.

My tit-for-tat relationship with Jesus ended then and there. I could never earn his healing touch. But to dedicate my life to the Creator of the universe brought me peace I could not explain.

Karen and I drove home where nothing, and everything, in my world had changed.

***

“Jack’s really sick, Pat. And I’m worried.” Karen stared vacantly out the living room window.

Jack’s symptoms were growing more serious as the days passed: vomiting, extreme dizziness. He couldn’t walk a straight course to the bathroom without smacking the wall. A doctor had diagnosed his condition, and his words paralyzed us: brain tumor. All that remained to confirm it was an MRI scheduled for tomorrow.

Weeks before, I had been tapped on the shoulder by the Holy Spirit and asked to help teach fifth and sixth graders at church — through my friend Don’s firm appeal. This, of course, included mentoring me, and our friendship grew steadily as Don challenged me to take on ministries I had never dreamed of. Puppets, buckets of slime, loud speakers, bubbles and prizes filled my Sundays. I helped wherever I could, within the bounds of my health, and Karen worked overtime to keep food on the table and the bills paid. I still worked, too, but it was obvious that she would soon bear the burden alone.

And now this.

Karen busied herself in the kitchen, and I sat alone in the front room, silent, while a peculiar restlessness roused me. I walked toward our bedroom to pray for Jack and stopped dead in the hall, overwhelmed by a wrenching urgency. And I said one word: “NO!”

The prayer wasn’t a demand. I hadn’t ordered God to act, but my heart collected all our grief, all our intense affection for Jack and all our faith in this single expression. The “hug” I felt from God confirmed to my soul that Jesus was healing my 8-year-old son.

Jack had been telling Karen for days, “Don’t worry, Mama, Jesus will take care of me,” but my wife was too grieved to see how close we were to a miracle. The morning after my hallway prayer, all of Jack’s dizziness, puking and pain vanished. The doctor examined the results of Jack’s MRI, and only a faint shadow pointed to “something” that had existed.

***

“I think we should start tithing, Pat.”

Karen stood over a pile of bills, holding our daughter, Erin, in her arms and waving my last paycheck from construction work — barely enough to nip the edge of our budget. To promise God 10 percent of our diminishing income was a huge leap of faith, especially for Karen, who pored over every bill, juggling, praying and cajoling our creditors.

We decided to put our faith into action by giving from our want rather than our wealth.

The day we set aside our first tithe to God, Karen turned off the worry over our bills. She tossed it all into God’s hands and believed that it was his problem to solve. And it wouldn’t have mattered, anyway, if we gave 10 or 100 percent — our income fell short of paying our monthly debts.

After my sister’s failed try at giving me a kidney, doctors were setting up for my first dialysis treatment, an ordeal I never contemplated when I was a robust young fireman. Now, my dicey lifestyle revolved around cleansing my blood of impurities every other day. I couldn’t keep up an acceptable pace in any physically demanding job, and my mind delved deep caverns of depression while I stayed home with the kids and Karen worked.

On one of my worrisome days, I made my debut at the Social Security office to cross all the “Ts” and dot every “I” to receive funds I had paid into for 30-plus years. I had a six-month waiting period before my first check — and my creditors were getting impatient.

The woman at the counter frowned at my records.

“Your hours were cut back considerably before you quit. About how many months back did this start?”

I fumbled through paystubs and produced proof that the cuts were six months old.

“Oh. Then you qualify for a check today. Your waiting period is over.”

In my weakened condition, I could barely contain my tears; this was an important boost to my faith — and another one of God’s morale builders was close at hand. Karen came home with a promotion that paid a great deal more salary. By the time we added up our incomes, we were making more than if I was working as a construction supervisor! Her job furnished insurance that covered my dialysis treatments, and while I stayed home, I could take care of our kids — no more expensive daycare.

***

During the months of my dialysis, we experienced the frustrating “randomness” of kidney donations. I wondered how any potential recipient, relying on the helter-skelter medical system, could maintain sanity waiting for an organ without God’s grace. I had given Jesus total control of each day, and fear of dying simply wasn’t the burden.

Still, in my physical illness, I sometimes slogged in a swamp of despondency at times. Satisfying friendships at church lifted my spirits, but legions of worry marched against my mind when I was alone. I had experienced the kidney “purse trick” twice: once, with my sister as a near donor, and a second time when I waited in line as a third alternate.

My dear wife took the near misses the hardest. Jesus reserves a special crown for Karen, who interceded for me when I was helpless. She honored God with a selfless loyalty to a man who had never savored love before he met her. We understand the “one flesh” spoken of in marriage vows in a way that few will ever know.

So in December, as I strung Christmas lights around home like a listless elf, the phone call from Virginia Mason placing me as a “fifth alternate” didn’t set me to caroling. I figured that tomorrow I’d be sitting in my “favorite” chair for five hours while a machine scoured my blood again. (Oh, man of faith …)

I finished up a string of twinklers over the door while a childish thought kept hounding me: Mom had always warned me to change underwear every day, just in case I was in a car accident. It had always seemed absurd, but now it seemed logical, so I jumped in the shower, threw on clean clothes and even shaved, mentally ready for — nothing, most likely.

The phone rang again.

“Can you get here right away for blood work?”

I hung up, a little stunned, then called Karen, who rushed to situate the kids with friends for the night. I drove to Virginia Mason.

When God says, “Now,” he means it.

I’d been in the waiting room mere minutes when a Styrofoam container with “Biohazard” printed on the lid flew by me in the hands of technicians. Nurses had me stripped, prepped and under clean sheets waiting for the surgeon before Karen made the door. She had been so frazzled, she lost herself in Virginia’s corridors. She barely had time to kiss me before the world faded in a haze, like I’d smoked a plastic bagful of trailer-park homegrown.

An organ recipient always asks doctors who the donor is. Mine was an 18-year-old motorcycle accident victim. He’d been on life support when his parents had consigned his soul to God’s keeping. They authorized the doctor to detach their son from his machine and to take his organs: his liver, a heart valve, a pancreas, his eyes — his kidneys.

When I came to, I had one of those kidneys in me, God’s gift of life from this family to mine.

***

Before he died, an elderly gentleman at Faith Assembly named Phil ambled along our church hallway, lost his balance and stumbled. I was a few paces behind him, and he caught himself. His quiet exclamation was: “Thank you, Jesus!”

Phil is in heaven now, but unknowingly he helped clarify a deep longing in my heart — to be close enough to Jesus to thank him, even when I stumble.

I work at Faith Assembly of Lacey these days as a maintenance manager. My heart still yearns to have ready answers for children who have questions about God — and I believe I’ve discovered a way, perhaps the best way, to help them. As leader of men’s ministries, I work with fathers to teach them how to feed the spiritual hunger in their kids. A Christian dad’s loving example can melt a child’s fears and guide him through the insecurities that a godless world dumps on his tender mind.

Today I smile at the man shaving in the mirror every morning. My “younger” kidney is percolating nicely and has for the last eight years, without a hiccup. I’m looking forward to seeing my grandchildren name their “special” places along their own Eel Rivers, with godly friends and family close and encouraging. And in God’s new light, I view my boyhood with bittersweet thanksgiving.

Since my life-and-death days on dialysis, Karen and I live each day knowing how fragile life can be. We see God’s involvement in each waking moment as necessary and powerful.

I view any unexpected “cross-country” trip as a fresh invitation from Jesus to grab his strong hand and follow close.

No odyssey will ever unhinge me again. My confidence is in Jesus’ blood — shed one time for all of us. It cleanses my life every moment I live, keeping me ready for heaven.

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