Photo by shawnfarand.com
Abby and I had an important conversation earlier this week as we drove to Pensacola together.
A couple of weeks ago, while we all ate lunch together, Joey’s dad told Abby about a lady who had given her sister a kidney many years ago. He talked about how well the recipient of the kidney was still doing, explaining that she must take anti-rejection drugs and giving general details about kidney transplants. I wasn’t worried about it, but I knew this would come back up once Abby had processsed it. I was correct.
As we drove down Scenic Highway headed to a doctor’s appointment in Pensacola, Abby began asking questions.
“If both of those ladies can live with only one kidney, then couldn’t Anna live with only one kidney?” she asked. I told her that Anna could live with only one kidney, but the ultrasounds show us that both of Anna’s kidneys are very sick. “But what if God healed one of Anna’s kidneys–just one of them–and the other one was still sick?” I explained to her what kidneys do in the body and how Anna really needed one well kidney the whole time she was in the womb so that everything would develop properly. But God could do anything, and if He healed one kidney, He could heal Anna, too. “So if God healed one kidney, then somebody could give Anna another kidney?” asked Abby.
I knew what question was coming next. I felt the lump come up in my throat.
“Yes, Abby, someone could give Anna her kidney, but she would have to get a lot bigger before her body would accept a new kidney. She’s too tiny to have a kidney transplant right now,” I said.
“But when she got bigger, she could have one,” Abby said.
I told Abby that if God healed one kidney, strengthened Anna’s lungs and other organs, helped her grow older, and provided a good match for Anna’s kidney, then yes, she could have a kidney transplant.
And then after a couple of follow-up questions, she posed the possibility that I knew she had been mulling over in her mind.
“Well, if that woman in Flomaton gave her sister a kidney, then I could, too. You don’t have to have two kidneys, and I could give Anna one of mine,” Abby said.
I know that my six-year-old Abby has no idea what she’s really suggesting. She has no idea how much of a sacrifice that really is. She doesn’t understand the ramifications of major surgery or kidney transplants or long hospital stays and anti-rejection drugs. But in that moment, I knew that she longed for her little sister to be well just as much as I did. She was willing to give a part of herself if it meant that Anna could live. And is there anything more precious to a mother than to see deep, sacrificial love between two of her children?
I let my tears flow as I sat in the driver’s seat. Abby and I talked about how special Anna is. I told her that sometimes what seems right to us just isn’t God’s plan. I paraphrased a few verses–told her that His ways were not our ways, told her that God knew how long Anna would live before He even created her. I told her that even though she may only live inside of me and just a few minutes outside of me, her life was still important.
Abby and I talked about the blog. We talked about how God was using Anna’s life and her story to show people that He will be with us even when things seem so sad and hopeless. Abby said our family was sort of being missionaries, and although I couldn’t put myself in that category exactly, I decided to let the Holy Spirit speak to her little heart and minister to her in a way that I knew I couldn’t.
As we drove on, headed for Sacred Heart Hospital for an appointment at the children’s clinic, I thought about how quickly we would find ourselves back there at that hospital to finally meet Anna face-to-face. I thought about how our previous trips to labor and delivery had been filled with excitement–the bubbling over type of joy that comes with bringing a new life into the world mingled with all the happy expectations wrapped up in bringing home a new family member. This time would be different. But I do think that even in the intense sadness we are preparing to face, there will also be moments of joy. Moments of hope. Moments of grace.
A Bible promise that has assured me during this time has been Romans 5:20-21: “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Sin brought death. Jesus brought eternal life. And guess what reigns? Not sin. Not death. Not bitterness or doubt or faithlessness. Not anger or questioning or fear. Not sadness or grief or loss. Not the grave. Grace. Grace reigns. Unmerited favor. A cloak of righteousness for those who accept Jesus as their redeemer. An eternal life filled with peace and love and all those things that–if we’re honest–we really don’t deserve.
I want my children to understand grace. I want them to get it. I do not want my Abby and Josiah to be legalistic, thinking that a person who has messed up is beyond God’s reach or beneath theirs. I do not want them to be the type of Christians who look down their noses at sinners and cannot reach beyond carefully built walls that separate them from “the outside.” Oh, I hope they recognize sin and fight it head on. But I want them to know that grace is an unearned gift and that they need it just as much as anyone else. If grace reigns, we should begin practicing the art of it now. We should get used to the idea that we should not only be recipients of it but givers of it, too.
Anna has reminded me just how much I need this gift. As I have struggled against God’s will for my life, I have had to ask forgiveness and I have had to open my tightly clenched hands up to a God who reminds me His grace is sufficient for even me. And when people have said things that seemed inappropriate, hurtful, or even downright strange, God has used Anna to remind me to give them grace because they are doing their best to minister to us. No one speaks God’s balm into wounded lives perfectly.
And so, Anna Grace has seemed the perfect name. As I hold our Anna in that hospital room, I want more than anything for her and for everyone who meets her to know that she is something pretty special. God has a purpose for her life and she is not just an anomaly, a genetic mishap, a child who is not viable. She is not just sadness, a terrible situation, something to be pitied. She is loved and treasured and she has taught us so much. She is just as much a part of our family as Abby and Josiah. Even tonight, as I feel my body changing and I know our time is slipping away, I feel this overwhelming love for her. I want to keep her here so I can continue to feel these kicks and know that she’s still with me. She matters. Her life matters. She is a gift of grace, of undeserved favor. If I had to choose between carrying Anna in this way and never carrying her at all, I would choose this.
Anna Grace, I told your daddy just tonight that I knew if you lived, you would just be the girliest girl. I bet you would love tea parties and frilly dresses and big bows and painted toenails. Or then again, maybe you wouldn’t, just to spite me for giving you such a lovely, feminine name. Maybe you would tag along with your big brother and learn how to tackle, growl, and fight the bad guys. I guess that would be okay, too.
I love you so. I know that giving you up will be the hardest thing I will have ever had to do, but I am thankful that God chose me to carry you. I am blessed to be your mommy. Although I am in no rush for you to come out–stay as long as you like–I will treasure every second you are in my arms. You are a fragile gift, but I accept you with gratitude. Anna means “grace, favor.” We didn’t even know that until after we had given you your middle name! So your name means “Grace. Grace.” I think God wanted to make sure we got the point. It’s just like when we realized after giving Abby the name Abriana Joy that her name means “A father’s joy. Joy.” You girls! You will just have so much fun together in heaven one day. I wonder if God will just call you Grace and Joy. You have each lived up to your names already. We love you, sweetheart. I believe we will be seeing each other very soon.