Rev. Dr. Dennis C. Bailey, as pastor of the First Congregational Church in Billerica, Massachusetts, writes and distributes The Lantern, a news letter for his parishioners. The following is an excerpt from his May 2005 issue, and is reprinted with permission.
If you know anything about Donna and me you know that we are people who have been known to take risks. Donna, to name one example, decided to skydive on her 50th birthday and did.
Over this past year Donna has been exploring the opportunity to have a pancreas transplant. She has been diabetic since the age of ten. Donna began to have serious complications from her diabetes in 1976, which included losing her sight. Twenty-six and a half years ago Donna was given a second chance at life when her mother, Lillian, decided to give Donna a kidney on October 4, 1978. That kidney continues to provide Donna some support, although will likely need to be replaced within the next few years.
After an evaluation visit to the Transplant Center at Fairview-University Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN in September 2004, Donna was listed on the national transplant list on December 15, 2004. On the morning of March 8, 2005, she received a phone call saying they had a pancreas for her. The surgery was that evening, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., in Minneapolis. And, as most of you know by now, it has been a very, very challenging journey. As I write this (on Sunday, April 17, 2005) she is feeling better and sounding like her old self. We never expected it to be this difficult, this long, and this painful (see www.carinqbridqe.orq/ma/dennis for the whole story).
I have been thinking about this journey and the scripture Matthew 7:7, where Jesus says,
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. "
When you knock on a door and it opens, you often do not know what will be on the other side. You may think you know and indeed, you may. But, in my experience, it always takes a little bit of faith, if not a lot, to knock, and walk through that doorway.
When Donna and I decided to knock on this particular door we knew that it came with a great deal of risk. We knew that there were no guarantees that a pancreas transplant would work.
We knew that the surgery and recovery could be challenging. We read and researched, even while Donna's medical supports clearly informed her of their reservations and the risks. We came to Minneapolis, MN in large part because the transplant surgeon, Dr. David Sutherland, is a pioneer and a risk-taker, seeking to help as many people as possible and not limiting the availability of transplant surgery nearly as much as most centers do. This is where the first pancreas transplant in the world took place! Yet, we never thought it would be as hard as it has been for Donna to recover. It has only been in the last three days that she has, we feel, started to turn the corner. That's over five weeks since the surgery, when it is usually three-six weeks from surgery to discharge.
Spiritually I am reminded that knocking on doors and walking through the open ones come with no guarantee of safety. I have knocked on a lot of doors in my life. Most of them have granted some form of immediate gratification. What this door has been giving me most is frustration, fear, hopelessness, angst, doubt, anger, questions, lack of control, insecurity, and exhaustion. It has given Donna all of these plus infections, diarrhea, nausea, and despair. And it has made me aware of one important truth: Knocking on doors and walking through them is NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!
Jesus calls us to follow him, to knock on doors until we get an answer and until a door opens. Jesus is a door and the door, as referenced in the gospels. The door is not the house. It is not the destination. It is not a dwelling place. It is a passageway into the house, a means of getting to somewhere or place.
I believe that Donna and I made the right decision to walk through the door of seeking a pancreas transplant. Right now, Donna wouldn't do it again. I have a lot of questions that will not soon be answered.
This spiritual truth I do know. We have been surrounded and held by unconditional love. When I walked through the door to ministry at First Congregational Church in Billerica I had no idea of the depth and breadth of God's blessing I would find there. Even while physically absent, we have felt their hugs, heard their prayers, and received their love every day of this journey. Through this door we have found Fred and Carol, my hosts, whose souls have become knit to ours with their spiritual hearts rising and falling with the joys and challenges of Donna's (and Dennis') well-being. On the other side of this door God has been and is present to us in the ministry of the United Church of Christ, Mayflower United Church of Christ and First Congregational Church, Minneapolis, of family and friends, of countless churches and spiritual communities even beyond the boundaries of the United States.
God has led me to many a door. If I have any regrets, and I have few, it would be that there are some doors that God brought me too upon which I did not knock, and open doorways into which I did not enter. l have knocked and entered many a door. I think, at this point, it's one of my greatest assets. But my favorite door is Jesus Christ. He has led me to and through the best places of my life and I have had more than I can remember. In this most difficult place, I am with the most important person in my life, Donna Lee Hansen Bailey. Quality time? Well??? But it has been an honor to walk with her through the doorways of his hospital and to remember, opening doors and walking (or jumping) through them is always a leap of faith. In faith, we trust God to lead us on wherever it may go and however it may end.
The following is an excerpt from Rev. Dr. Bailey’s August 2005 newsletter:
Donna and I have been home from Minnesota almost four weeks. She was in the hospital for six weeks recovering from. her pancreas transplant of March 8th. We remained in Minnesota one week after Donna was discharged from the hospital. We flew back home on Wednesday, April 27th. It's been so good to be home. One more good reason to be home? Angelina, our 6 ½ lb Pomeranian, is again sifting on my lap as I write this column!
THANKS, THANKS, THANKS to the people of First Congregational Church in Billerica for the wonderful coming home party you threw for us on the evening of Saturday, May 7th! Lots of family, friends, and acquaintances came to see Donna in person so that they could see for themselves how she looked after the pancreas transplant ordeal through which they had prayed day and night. That party allowed us to bring closure to that part of the journey!
Many people came to the party to see Donna for themselves. Seeing for themselves was important. I remember how Jesus' disciple, Thomas, had to see for himself, the wounds of Jesus' crucifixion before his belief could be fully realized. I think that sometimes we are too hard on Thomas for his "doubt." I know that many people came to the party just to see Donna, to talk to Donna, to understand how it was and how might now be for her. People sat with Donna and marveled at her very presence, given how hard it had been when she was hospitalized.
So many, many wonderful people had prayed for Donna's well-being, for her very survival, and to be able to hear the words "the pancreas is working." There is a longing in every heart to see that for which we pray to be realized in our time, in our presence, and in our seeing. Why? I know that for me, there are so many promises made in our lives, vows committed in the presence of God, family, and friends, and ideas spun off, the proponents of which assure us will come to pass. It's nice to know that once in a while, at least, something we hope for, pray for, and dream of does come to pass, even when against many an obstacle.
I know that for me I went with Donna to Minneapolis full of hope. I had envisioned a day in which Donna's transplant would be successful, a day in which she would no longer need the use of insulin, and a day when she would be fully recovered. My faith and hope were strong. But then there were the long days and weeks of recovery that were not recovery, when Donna's body was not responding with healing, despite all of the efforts of the medical staff. My ability to believe in what I could not see diminished. I depended upon others to hold the vision, keep the faith, and to pray with hope. I started saying to the Medical Staff when they attempted another optimistic prediction, that "I would believe it when I see it."
The days and nights were long. But then on the Friday of week five Donna was better, but I did not dare believe it to be a turning point. The next day, she was a little better. Still, I did not believe. But then, on Sunday, when I came to the hospital after attending church, Donna had eaten what one of the doctors wrote in her medical records, "Donna ate a trucker's breakfast." Now I saw. Now I believed. No more false hope.
Jesus came in the flesh so that we could see and believe. Jesus came in the flesh so that we could hear his voice first hand, so that we would know that even when we do not see him, he is still with us.
This is why belonging and attending worship in a spiritual community like a church is so important. We need to see each other. We need to talk with each in person. We need to shake hands, hug (when possible and agreed, to), and experience first hand some of the moments of another person's life, in order to believe.
This past Sunday was Confirmation Sunday in our church. Nine young teens chose to step forward and publicly affirm their baptisms through the rite of confirmation. They declared themselves to be Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ. They have seen others profess and practice this faith. They have been in community with us through these thirteen or more years and witnessed how others follow Jesus. Family members and friends came to witness the event first hand. It was a powerful event for me, personally, because the grandmother of one young confirmed was present, despite the cancer that threatens her body. I saw her say "yes" to life, and I believe! It was powerful for me because I know first hand how some of these young teens have come to faith themselves. While, like me, they don't have all the answers, they know that by seeing and believing the presence of Christ in others and now, in themselves, they are special and can do special things for the work of God and God's people….
Rev. Dr. Dennis C. Bailey