How Fostering and Living Donation are Similar

Foster care and the kidney transplant are really the only two things I have been thinking about this week… I am so preoccupied with thoughts of what is on the horizon for us (Steve and I and our foster children). Bear with me… this might be a stretch but I was thinking about it today – fostering and living donation are similar. I don’t think of my kidney as being mine. Ever since I decided to start the process of donating my kidney to my husband I have thought of it as already his. Right now I am just incubating my husband’s kidney. I am taking care of it like I would my own (actually even more carefully because it does not belong to me and I want to give it to him in pristine condition) but in the back of my mind I know that eventually (hopefully) it will be going home to live inside my husband (haha that sounds so weird). That is where it belongs if the doctors determine that it is safe for it to live there! In some ways foster care is a lot like that.

People say all of the time “I could never give them back!” about fostering as a reason they could never foster. While I understand that fear of loss and I have experienced that enormous grief of having to let go of foster children the intention is to love them and care for them temporarily. Fostering is not about my wants. As much as I would love to adopt, as much as I would love to never have to say good-bye to these precious babies that I am madly in love with, as much as I do not want to let them go, they do not belong to me. I was given the blessing of “incubating” them for a season until it is safe for them to go. It will be painful. I knew that going into it but the outcome is worth any pain I might feel if it helps them feel less pain. Nobody said it would be easy, but it is worth it!

Fostering and living donation have become two of my greatest passions and I hope that my story can inspire someone else to consider fostering or becoming a donor. Fostering and going through the process of trying to become a living kidney donor has enriched my life so much through all the friendships I have made and all that I have learned through my own weakness and need for help! There is nothing better than being able to give the gift of life! The act of taking care of something/someone, for someone else, despite how it may hurt has brought me so much closer in my relationship to God and understanding how He loves me.

John 15:12-13 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

 

5 HUGE Ways God Has Knocked My Socks Off

I want to give God all the glory for everything that has transpired over the last 2 weeks and really my whole life… He has had this plan laid out for a long time. The feeling of immense gratitude I have right now is bursting out of my pores and I just have to put in writing my thanks. I am completely blown away by His grace and mercy in Steve and my life! If I can use Steve and my story for any type of recognition I want that recognition and acknowledgement to be how great God is! Do not praise me or Steve; praise the LORD – He is good. Please do not be discouraged in whatever circumstances life has thrown you, like I was, God is good even when our faith and strength waiver. I find so much comfort that God works and His power is made perfect in our weakness.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

1 –  First of all He answered my prayer! All last month I was praying for a miracle – boy, did he deliver!!! I was struggling with my faith. I wrote a blog entitled “I am Angry at God” last month because that is how I felt. Eventually, (probably just out of sheer exhaustion) I surrendered and begged God to show me He had not forgotten me, to show me that He still loved Steve and I, and to show me that He still had plans to prosper us and not to harm us. He showed me his love in the most unexpected way imaginable.

2 – God placed it on THOUSANDS of people’s hearts to reach out to me, to pray for my husband and me, and to encourage us. I cannot even begin to express how overwhelming it is to get messages from people literally around the WORLD saying they are thinking about you and praying for you. The peace and encouragement Steve and I have felt from all the prayers has been incredible and so very needed.

3 – The friendships that I have made from people reaching out to me has been heartwarming. People who are living donors, recipients of transplants, people on dialysis, people in the process of hopefully donating a kidney to someone, people who are battling other health issues,  and people who just were touched by our story. I have not had the opportunity to respond to everyone but the conversations that I have had with the people I have been able to respond to have been so uplifting and I hope I was able to encourage some of you as much as you encouraged me. If you have reached out and I have not responded I am sorry, I very much appreciate the time you took to message me. The generosity/love/kindness has been so humbling from everyone who has reached out. God bless you all!

4 – Another way God has blessed me is something that makes me a little uncomfortable to talk about – finances. Steve and I take pride in working hard and providing for ourselves and our foster children. With Steve’s health issues things have been difficult financially because he was out of work for awhile and then was only able to work part time due to his dialysis schedule. I had no idea how we were going to make it work in order to continue to pay our bills while we were both out of work recovering. It is so hard to ask for help and neither Steve nor I felt comfortable doing that. The night I posted the video I got a message from Jonathan, he was a stranger at the time but now he is a good friend. I seriously cannot wait to meet him and his wife in person! He sent me a message, “I’d like to do something to help.” I kind of dismissed the comment and thanked him for his kindness thinking he was just being nice and not really feeling comfortable accepting help from a stranger. Then he started telling me how he was going to help and he immediately went to work to help alleviate some of the financial burden. His generosity, action, and determination in helping us is humbling and so very much appreciated. I am really happy he reached out and I think that we will be friends for life! He was just one of the many people who have stepped up and helped Steve and I financially and we are seriously blown away that so many people would give of their personal resources to bless us.

5 – Lastly, (this is definitely not an exhaustive list but I don’t think anyone would want to read as long as I could write about how God has blessed me) God has blessed my socks off by renewing my spirit! I have felt so discouraged and now I feel uplifted. I have not been able to pour into others as much as I want to because of how empty I was feeling. When I shared my blog about being angry at God my godfather messaged me and told me not to forget that God was the God of all circumstances and “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” I responded that I knew that but I had grown weary of the valley and longed to be guided beside quiet waters and for my soul to be renewed. God heard my cries and answered my prayers. I am sure Steve and I will have struggles in the next few weeks but I am so glad I am approaching the next phase of our life with a renewed, encouraged spirit.

God bless you all!! Seriously thank you for your support, encouragement, and love. I will keep you updated as our story unfolds so you can praise God alongside of us for all He has done and continues to do. August 9th and 10th I will be going for 2 days of additional testing, if everything goes well surgery could be just a few short weeks after that.

 

I did not expect this

“What to expect when you are expecting to donate a kidney” is the name of this blog I started back on May 4th of this year to chronicle my journey in hopefully donating a kidney to my husband Steve. Apparently, you should expect the unexpected! My husband battles chronic kidney disease, gout, and Type 1 Diabetes. Steve was diagnosed with kidney disease 14 years ago but just recently reached low enough kidney function to qualify for a transplant. I did not expect in my wildest dreams that our story would go viral! I am a pretty private person and wanted to film Steve’s reaction to finding out we are a match for us to have as a memory. Then I reluctantly decided to share the video on my Facebook and thought some close friends and family would like to see it because they had been praying for us. I wanted them to share in our excitement! Wow, I am blown away by everyone’s support!

I got the news that we were a match on Thursday July 6th. I was at work, got a call from the transplant donor coordinator, she asked if I had a moment to talk (um yes, of course!!! I have been waiting on your call all week!!!), then she told me the news – “we got the results from your blood work back and you are a match!” I started bawling. I felt so overwhelmed – I have been given the opportunity to save my husband’s life. The donor coordinator told me they would be calling in the next few days to schedule me to come back to the transplant center for 2 days of additional testing to make sure I am in good enough health to donate. Our lives were about to change forever! I could not wait to tell my husband. The news would have to wait though because I wanted to tell him in person and in a special way.

Rewind earlier that week before I had gotten this life changing news. I was thinking about how I was going to tell my husband when I found out we were a match. Even though the odds of us being a match were small, I had faith we would be a match! Why not, right? He is my perfect match in life so why would I not match him for this? I did not want to think about the possibility of us not being a match because hearing I was not a match would have devastated me. This hope of being able to help him is what I had clung to! I went ahead and ordered a customized card from Topps to announce the news to him. Baseball and card collecting has been an escape for us from the stresses of battling this disease so I thought it would be a fun way to tell him. I put in some cheesy baseball puns and ordered it. I put my work address as the shipment address in case we were not a match I did not want my husband to see it. I ended up getting the news we were a match before I got the card in the mail so I contacted Topps customer service. I talked to Sabrina in customer service who was AMAZING!! She contacted distribution and had them rush my card, she sent me the proofs of the card so I could print it out and tell my husband that evening, and she overnighted my card order to me.

I posted the video and I am overwhelmed with the support and love we are getting from around the world. That our video touched so many people is very humbling. My hope is that it brings awareness to living kidney donation and more people consider getting tested to see if they are a match. Kidney disease is so hard! My prayers are with all 100,000 (ish) people who are currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. My hope is that Steve and my story will cut your wait time down substantially, people (friends, family, strangers) will step up and get tested to be a living kidney donor, and that you will all find your match and live healthier, happier, longer lives. Thank you all for watching our video and sharing in our excitement! Please continue to pray for us as we prepare for the next stages of testing and hopefully our upcoming surgery in the next few weeks.

Here is the link to the video:

Waiting Game

Last Thursday Steve and I went to Vanderbilt so Steve could do his pre-transplant testing and so I could do blood work to see if we are a match. It was an incredible day! I was really impressed with Vanderbilt – how thorough they were at explaining everything and how smooth and efficiently the day went. We had an orientation class that lasted about 3 hours where we learned a LOT about kidney transplants – the before, during, and after transplant. We learned about what the costs are involved in a transplant, what type of support we would need to undergo a transplant, and what life after a transplant might look like. Then Steve had multiple appointments for different tests to determine if he was healthy enough to undergo a kidney transplant. I had my blood drawn to see if our tissue type/blood/antibodies are compatible.  

The nephrologist (kidney doctor) Steve met with at Vanderbilt was AMAZING. We really liked her a lot. She was Steve’s local nephrologist at UT Medical’s mentor when he did his residency at Vanderbilt and Steve’s doctor has spoken very highly of her and now we know why. We had been really anxious about the process and she definitely calmed our nerves. Steve and I almost broke down crying in her office with relief. It felt right. She reassured us that Steve was an excellent candidate for a transplant and she wants to help us make that happen. 

Now we wait. The donor coordinator told me it would take between 5-10 days for the results to come back and as soon as they got the results they would call and let me know. The suspense is killing me! If I am a match Vanderbilt will schedule me for 2 days of testing at Vanderbilt to make sure I am healthy enough to donate a kidney. I have already done some pre-screening tests (answering a questionnaire that asks about health issues you have that might disqualify you from donating and I did not have any of those health issues) but the 2 day testing will be more in-depth. If I am not a match I can sign up to be a part of a donor chain – where I donate to someone’s loved one in exchange for them donating to Steve. This helps more people get kidneys when loved ones are willing and able to donate but are not a match for their loved one.  

If we are a match we could be undergoing surgery in a matter of weeks. I want so badly to be able to give my husband this gift of life! This experience has made me so much more grateful for my own health. I will keep you all posted on results soon! Hopefully by the end of this week or beginning of next week we will be celebrating the fact that not only are Steve and I compatible as husband and wife but that we are a perfect match. Regardless of what ends up happening, I believe God has such an incredible plan for our life that he orchestrated before we ever knew each other and it is unfolding for us and our friends and family in a beautiful testimony of His love for us.

My next post will be THE NEWS on if I have found out if I am a match or not.

Happy Father’s Day

New Year’s Eve 2015 my husband and I went out to eat. Who would have thought that the conversation that we had that night would change the course of our life forever – that that conversation would result in us becoming parents in just 6 short months! We were reflecting on the previous year and talking about what was to come in the next year and chapter in our life. My incredible husband asked me what my biggest dream was and in the middle of that crowded restaurant I broke down in tears. I started to cry because I was overwhelmed with emotions thinking about my one heart’s desire.

It wasn’t a pretty cry either, it was a full on ugly sobbing kind of cry. Steve probably was wondering what he said wrong when I was finally able to blubber out: “I want to be a mother.” He replied reassuringly “I know, and it will happen!” I proceeded to pour out my heart, I did not care about having children of my own; I longed to be a mother to children who needed me now – I wanted to be a foster parent. 

Before marriage Steve and I had talked about wanting to have children and the possibility of adopting in our future. Fostering is different though….with fostering their is no guarantee that the little ones you love will stay forever, in fact the goal is for them to be reunited with their family when it is safe to do so. Fostering is not for everyone, and I knew this was a lot to ask of my husband. It takes a very special man to love another person’s children. Steve is an extraordinary man!

January 2016 – the start of the new year we went to a foster parent orientation class, we kept going to the classes, we did a home study, and we were approved. In 6 months we went from talking about fostering to being foster parents to 7 and 9 year old sisters. Without getting into any detail about their background to respect their story and privacy, I will just say that through my husband’s love for these little girls came so much healing to their lives. No parent should ever have to have the heart wrenching conversations that Steve had with these girls and he did it with so much gentleness and strength. Steve is a father to the fatherless and he taught them how to trust again.  

Even with Steve’s health struggles he continues to say “yes” to foster children and being a father to children whose father’s cannot or choose not to parent at this time. In fact, Steve was the one who said yes to our most recent placement. I was hesitant but he jumped in both feet first. We had two hours notice to go pick up a toddler from the DCS office, drop him off at another foster family’s home, and then go to the children’s hospital to room in with the toddler’s newborn baby sister. The very next day we took home a baby girl and her big brother. Instantaneously, we were parents again to two small children. To say our world changed would be an understatement.

I am continually amazed at my husband’s love for these children and the sacrifices he makes to continue to love and care for them even on his hardest days. In a world where so many dad’s choose to not be there for their children, you chose to be there for someone else’s children when you do not have to. Fostering is not easy and I cannot imagine how much harder it is while battling serious chronic illnesses. Steve, you are my hero and you are the hero to three precious children that call you “daddy” and a precious baby girl that cannot yet say “dada” (but I am sure “dada” will be her first word because of how much she adores you). The love I have for you Steve has grown so much seeing how wonderful a father you are. Happy Father’s Day to the love of my life and the daddy of the children who need you. Thank you for joining me on this crazy adventure that is our life and helping me love these beautiful children that we love as if they are our own. Happy Father’s Day!! I cannot wait to start this weekend of celebrating YOU!

I’m Angry at God

Patience is not my strongest attribute. June 29th can’t come soon enough! I have not written in a while because I am not proud of how I have been feeling lately. However, I feel like I had to write this post if I was going to try to give an honest portrayal of this journey. I want so badly to help my husband and am so anxious to find out if I am a match to donate a kidney to him. Last month Steve was in and out of the hospital a lot and it has been wearing on me that I could potentially help him but I have to wait. My faith has not been the strongest; if I am completely honest, I have been incredibly angry at God. The book of Job has been weighing heavily on my heart – how could God be so cruel to Job? How could God be so cruel to my husband and I? I feel like He is allowing the devil to hurt us and I am weary of it all. I try to continue to praise Him through the storm but I feel beat up and like God is no longer my good shepherd trying to protect me and guide me along quiet waters. That is the raw, honest, ugly truth.

Steve and I had not been to church in a while but Sunday I felt like going. The real reason I went? I went because I feel like God has not been near and I wanted to tell him how angry I was for not listening to me or answering. That may sound silly…I went to church to tell God I was mad at him, but that is the truth. Regardless of my intentions, it got me to church and I feel like God was trying to tell me that He is not being silent – I am just not listening, am not hearing what I want to hear, and He is not doing things in my timing. There was a guest speaker at church and he preached on Paul. One of the books Paul wrote was Philippians which is a Prison Epistle (a letter Paul wrote from prison). Needless to say, Paul’s situation was not great, however he still had a thankful heart. Ugh….conviction! The speaker talked about how Paul had joy and was rejoicing even while he was in prison. Happiness is based on circumstances but joy comes from a personal relationship with Jesus. I have not had a lot of happiness or joy recently. I have not been drawing near to God in this difficult time because l felt like God abandoned me.

The next 17 days while I wait to go to the transplant center I will do my best to rest in God’s promises that His plans are not to harm me even when I do not feel that way. I will share my weaknesses and my struggle because other people may be encouraged that they are not the only ones feeling anger toward God. Maybe me being honest about my struggles will help someone in some way. God’s grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9-11). Isn’t that comforting? God can still use us in our brokenness. I do not think God is offended by our anger but He does not want it to keep us from Him. He wants us to passionately (read: angrily) bringing our petitions to Him if that is how we feel. He is merciful and can handle our temper tantrums. I recognize that I need to work on having a more thankful heart. Paul first thanked God and then brought his requests to Him. God has taken a lot away from me but He also gives. Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17) and I have taken a lot of gifts He has given me for granted.

I am thankful for my health, for my incredible husband, for the opportunity to help my husband live a healthier life, for my beautiful foster children God has entrusted to me for the time being, for my family and friends that have put up with my less than joyful self, and for a God that is good even when I lose faith. One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Cor 12:9-11 because it means God can use me, even with all of my imperfections – His power is made perfect in weakness. What a relief that God can still use me and all my flaws. I choose, going forward, to do my best to delight in these difficulties because I know God’s power is being made perfect, even when I cannot see it.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11New International Version (NIV)
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Dialysis Sucks

Dialysis sucks.

(I am thankful it exists, but it still sucks!)

Steve was hospitalized all of last week due to complications with his kidney disease and ended up doing dialysis 4 times while he was there. If you look at his arm, you would think that I beat him. Up until last week he has only been doing dialysis once a week (typically people who are on dialysis do it 3 times a week). Steve started dialysis early because his symptoms were so severe they were effecting his quality of life.

Last week his kidney levels dipped down into renal failure and the decision was made to have him start doing dialysis twice a week. On Monday morning I drove him to the dialysis clinic. It was a somber drive, which is weird for us. I think the gravity of this disease must have been weighing on both of us. Typically Steve is making everyone around him laugh and I love to laugh! One of the reasons we are such a perfect pair. When asked what my favorite thing to do is in a job interview one time my answer was “my favorite thing to do is laugh!” Laughter is what has kept us going through the most difficult of days. There was not any laughing during that car ride though.

After dropping Steve off at dialysis, I cried on my way to work. My husband, my 32 year old, amazing, wonderful, loving, strong husband is on dialysis. Dialysis. Per WebMD “Dialysis is a life-support treatment that uses a special machine to filter harmful wastes, salt, and excess fluid from your blood. This restores the blood to a normal, healthy balance.” My husband is on a LIFE SUPPORT treatment twice a week for 3-3.5 hours at a time. Life support! That is heavy. Monday the gravity of this disease hit me harder than ever.

The hope of him no longer having to do dialysis is overwhelming. That I can potentially help that become a reality is so incredibly humbling. I look forward to the day when I hopefully will hear the words “you are a match!” Dialysis does not just effect the patient but every aspect of the patient’s life, including their family. Dialysis is so hard. Steve does an incredible job of staying positive but dialysis will weigh on the strongest of people. It weighs on me and I am not even the one doing it. I love him more than anything and I am hopeful for a day when he no longer has to do dialysis.

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