How was your Easter? Easter was very different for me this year. It forced me to embody the Easter story in a fresh way. Like many of you, I lamented over not being able to have all of the "bells and whistles" and the usual "pomp and circumstance" during Easter Sunday worship. I watched with anticipation several of our district churches Easter services. I was blown away by the innovation and fresh approaches to Easter despite the constraints of sheltering in place and physical distancing. Little did I know that these Easter experiences would be a precursor to my embodying the Easter story.
Good Friday Experience
Somewhere around dinner time on Easter Sunday, the Easter Story began anew for me. I lost my appetite and got chills that evening. I didn't have a fever, so I was less concerned about having COVID-19. After the disruptive chills announced they were going to be with me for a while, another guest interrupted my Easter experience: I began to have intense cramps and pain in my lower abdomen, the location of my second transplanted kidney. Initially, I thought that it was gas pains as this is often a side-effect of the immunosuppressants to protect the transplanted organ. It wasn't gas. By this time, it was late at night, and I was confused and physically drained. Even though the physical date was Easter Sunday, I was having a Good Friday experience.
I didn't call my kidney doctor as I knew that he would want to run more tests in the morning (Easter Monday). I didn't sleep much on Easter night. I spent several moments trying to figure out what was going on with me. I didn't want to entertain the thought that my transplanted kidney might be rejecting. Chills and pain near the kidney area were signs to indicate that could be a possibility. But I couldn't go there in my mind. I recalled that my kidney transplant rejected in April 2008, and I didn't want to accept that April 2020 might signal a second rejection episode.
For the first time, since being diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease in 1998, I asked God why. "Why is this happening to me now?" All types of doubts danced around in my head. Moving through the denial and anger stages of grief, I gathered the courage to face my greatest fear: I didn't want to be an invalid, dependent on a machine for the rest of my life or invalid, rendered null and void without making an impact for the church in the world. I was afraid, and it felt more like Good Friday to me than Easter Sunday.
Like that first Good Friday, my Easter Sunday experience was a long night of darkness, fear, confusion, grief, and uncertainty about the future. The next morning (April 13), before I could call my doctor, I received a call from his nurse. She reported that my levels of immunosuppressants from my lab work on Maundy Thursday (April 9) were a bit on the high side, and I would see the doctor virtually on Thursday (April 16).
I assumed that the high numbers were the cause of the disruptive bodily symptoms that I experienced on Easter. My doctor couldn't confirm this but suggested that I have more lab work done the next morning on Friday (April 17) to determine if there were changes.
Holy Saturday Experience
I received the lab results from my appointment that morning near the end of the day Friday, and to my delight, my immunosuppressant levels had dropped to a healthy range. Still, my kidney function numbers had risen, indicating that something wasn't right. Now, I was terrified. The doctor scheduled more tests, including a kidney ultrasound, to see what was going on with my body. Now, that the shocking news of Good Friday had stopped me in my tracks and forced me to deal with the fear of being invalid, I began experiencing the uncertain feelings of a Holy Saturday silence.
My emotions were frozen, and I couldn't think straight. I told my wife, my therapist, and a close friend about what I was experiencing. Somehow, once I faced and shared my greatest fear, something shifted internally. The chills and pain had subsided, and I began to feel more like myself again. I continued to pray and finally surrendered to God and discovered that I needed to rewrite my fear of being an invalid. The truth is, I am an invalid who is dependent on a transplanted kidney to live! My dependence is invisible and internal and visible and external. This "I am an invalid indeed" revelation foreshadowed the Easter proclamation: "He is Risen!"
Like the first Easter, where the stone rolled away in the darkness, well before anyone knew it, my Easter proclamation of "He is Risen" happened with the internal shift that arrived earlier that night. I continued to experience the Holy Saturday experience of waiting until my appointment with the lab scheduled for Thursday. The Easter announcement came to me again on Thursday, April 23, when the doctor's office called to report that my kidney function had returned to normal, and there were no signs of rejection from the ultrasound.
Though it was not my plan for Easter, I learned what it means to be an adaptive disciple. Here are a few skills that I'm developing from my Easter experience.