The time of year has come again. I’m writing this post on August 3rd, and as I think back to this day four years ago, my husband was on life support. He was waiting for a donor heart to become available. If he didn’t get a heart within the week, he would die. He got one on August 6th, and had his transplant that night.
I remember how time stood still for me that week. When your husband is about to have a heart transplant, statistics become very important to you. I would read the survival rates for heart transplant patients after one year of transplant and then after two years, after five years, ten years, and so on. But I thought to myself that I couldn’t even imagine October coming much less a year – or more.
And now here we are – four years later.
Just to let you know, John is in perfect health. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. He has had very minimal rejection over the past four years, and we recently learned that the further out he gets from transplant, the risk of rejection decreases.
I love to tell the story of John’s heart transplant. I can talk about it for hours, and if you let me, I will. When I talk about it my heart starts beating fast. I get excited, talk faster, and sometimes feel the urge to raise my hands like in church and just start preaching. I contain myself, though, which I’m sure the person I’m talking to appreciates.
If you were sitting in front of me right now over coffee, there is one sentence I would say to you, and of all the fascinating details of heart transplantation, this is the one you would need to hear:
God’s peace is real. And if you don’t have it, you’re missing out.
I imagine myself saying this to you with my hands on your shoulders and me leaning in real close, looking straight into your eyes.
But in the next sentence I would also tell you this:
But I haven’t experienced God’s peace everyday for the past four years, even though you’d think I would have after going through something like my husband’s heart transplant.
Over the past four years I have continued to experience suffering. We can try to compare one type of suffering to another, but I never like to do that because in the end it doesn’t matter. Suffering over a broken friendship is still suffering, even if it isn’t suffering from a heart transplant.
And even though I know God’s peace is real, I’ve still struggled to experience it, and I’ve struggled to find joy in my suffering.
But recently God’s given me a fresh perspective on what it really means to find joy in suffering.
When John was at Duke and possibly about to die, I experienced God’s peace from one decision I made. I decided to fall into the suffering. Instead of try to fight it, because, to be honest, there was nothing I could do about it, I chose to look at it with an eternal perspective. My suffering was no longer about me. It was about eternity. And whatever God needed to do in me, in John, and in our lives, to bring us to a place where His divine purposes needed to be accomplished, I was up for it. Whatever it took.
There was joy in knowing that it wasn’t about me, but about something bigger and better than me and my temporal happiness on this earth. God was using my circumstances and my life to work out His divine rescue plan of salvation. I didn’t know how all the pieces fit together, and I still don’t, but I knew my life was a part of something bigger.
Other people thought I was in denial. They literally told me, “You’re in denial.” They thought John was going to die. I didn’t know if he was going to die or not, but I knew there was something bigger to focus on than us.
My suffering today is no different. There are people in my life who think I’m in denial about suffering I experience now that is completely unrelated to heart transplants. But this is what God is teaching me:
Joy in suffering comes from knowing that suffering is the only way I will ever become like Jesus. After all, Jesus himself suffered. I am too broken, too sinful, too full of myself for God to do it any other way. He must bring me to the end of myself so that I completely rely on Him.
I want nothing more than to be like Jesus. Therefore, I will suffer. And my joy will come from knowing that there is an eternal glory I will one day experience.
Jesus tells us that if we want to be His disciple, then we must deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). This is the secret to joy in suffering.
Are you willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
If you’re not, then you don’t believe Jesus’ other words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). You don’t trust that Jesus is big enough to carry you when your suffering overtakes you.
I’m in a place now where I echo Jesus’ words when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42).
Will you take up your cross and follow Jesus wherever He may lead? Even in your suffering?
Today we also remember the suffering that John’s heart donor and his family experienced and continue to experience due to the loss of their husband, father, son, brother, friend. We lift them up in prayer and pray God’s abounding grace upon them that they, too, may experience His comfort, peace and joy. We thank them for their decision for organ donation. They have given us a gift in John’s life and our sweet baby girl’s life that we could never repay. Thank you.