Different Kinds of Gifts

December 26, 2020 | My Jottings

How was your Christmas, friend? There are more than a few of you whom I wish I could have spent some time with on Christmas day. I pictured you in your home, sipping on something warm, lights on the tree glowing, maybe a Christmas movie playing or some carols. Some food, some people, and some hope. I really hope you had hope. Speaking of music, here’s what I have on repeat right now, and my favorite song on this album is this choir’s rendition of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.

We gathered at my house yesterday, but it was different. Most of you know that my son-in-law Chris had a kidney transplant in August, and is on many anti-rejection drugs. He basically has little or no immune system to fight anything off, and his medical team at Mayo Clinic has made it clear that getting COVID would be calamitous for him. So after a lot of considering and planning, where we would all wear masks, keep the windows in my house cracked, have all exhaust fans running (to keep fresh air circulating) and Chris would not eat in the same room as us, Chris decided not to take the risk. It made us sad to have him stay home, but it may have felt like a relief for him. We missed him a lot. So Sharon and their four kids came, Cullen with his girlfriend Carissa and Eleanor with her boyfriend Isaiah. And Carolyn and Jeremy came with their six children. And Sara and I were here of course. Lloyd was at home, choosing the same option Chris did because he has severely compromised lungs from his career, and cannot take one chance. The kids were pajama-clad, which I love. Person after person carried in large boxes with smaller wrapped boxes in them, and platters of food. We sat in my bedroom to open presents this year, something we’ve never done. But it’s bigger than my living room, and it worked fine. Then Sharon and their children left to go home, and the rest of us had a Christmas brunch of something everyone brought to share. Because it was abbreviated, it was different. But it was such a gift to have my whole family under my roof yesterday, minus one important member.

I made an egg/sausage/potato/cheese casserole I make every year. Sharon brought Creme Brulee French Toast, a wonderful relish tray with homemade ranch dressing, and a plate of Dairy Bars and M&M truffles. Carolyn brought bacon, a chopped Asian salad, and deviled eggs. We snacked all morning, played a fun drawing game (“using a minimum number of details, draw an owl…or a tapir…or a cockatiel”) and the results were chuckleworthy.

We watched two year-old Levi make the rounds of the house, play with Magformers and bring joy to everyone just due to his existence. Six year old Miriam carried around a new toy cell phone that delighted her, but made sounds no toymaker should ever put in a toy, Jeremy rightly stated.

My dear friend of forty-two years, Su, dropped off some beautiful gifts for me the other day, and here is one:

A Christmas card that when opened, springs forth a lovely little unfolded cardinal. I decided to put this on a round antique piano stool I keep by a chair in my bedroom for a little end table. And I don’t think I’ll put this card away. I love it.

I also received a beautiful cardinal mug in the mail from my dear friend Kay, a delightful surprise, and last night while watching Call the Midwife in my nightgown, I drank my tea in it.

A couple of days ago, my son-in-law Chris got a wonderful card in the mail. It had been forwarded to him by the Mayo Clinic, where he had his transplant. The card was a neatly handwritten note from Chris’s kidney donor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered about this man — all we were told by the Mayo folks was that he was younger than Chris, and a large man, which was good since Chris is a large man. So a large kidney was desired, if possible. We had thought that Chris’s donor was somehow connected to the person in Madision, Wisconsin who received my kidney, because the four of us went into surgery on the same day, and because I donated to help Chris and couldn’t donate directly. We thought the young man who donated to Chris was doing it to help a relative or friend in Madison, but wasn’t a match. The Mayo Clinic (and other medical centers) have this paired donation thing down to a science, and it’s not unusual for up to 10-12 people to all be coordinated all across the country for transplants and donations, all on the same day. One person’s goes to this match in Denver, that person’s kidney goes to Los Angeles, that person’s goes to Charlotte, that person’s kidney is flown to Houston, and that one’s goes to Minneapolis, and so on. We knew we were part of a closed, four-person transplant operation.

Well. Chris’s donor introduced himself as a 28 year-old electrician in Amarillo, Texas, who decided to donate his kidney one day on his break at work. He was listening to a podcast called “Kind World” and the episode had some people who had donated kidneys and some who had waited for kidneys, sharing about their experiences. Just like that, Blaine (that’s the young man) went online to the National Kidney Registry, applied to be a donor, and the rest of the story is the miracle our family is now living. He was a Good Samaritan donor — someone who decided to give without having a friend or relative benefit.

Now, I know what is entailed in kidney donation, because I donated my left kidney (named Justine) on the same day Chris received Blaine’s. (Chris named his new kidney Magnus). It is no small thing to donate, while I wouldn’t say there is a lot of suffering. There are days’ worth of testing to undergo. Pelvic CT scans, kidney function tests, blood and urine tests like no one’s business, meetings with social workers and nephrologists. Chest x-rays, 18-hour continuous blood pressure monitoring. Then your case is brought before a transplant board and whether or not your kidney should be taken out of you and given to another is gravely decided upon, because not only do they want the recipient to have a good outcome, they want the donor to have a good outcome as well. Then once you are approved, you wait. You sometimes wait a long, long time. You wait to get the call that a recipient with your blood type and acceptable antibody matching has been found, and that a good kidney has been found for the person you are doing this for. And when they tell you on the phone that they want you and your son-in-law in Rochester within several days, you might say (as Chris did) “Holy mud.” Then you make preparations at home and with your job, and reserve a place to stay for your recovery after your donation, because you have to be monitored for a few days afterward. Once the time arrives, you have the dreaded brain-swabbing COVID test, another day of tests, admittance to a hospital within the Mayo system, and a vital organ is surgically removed from you by one of the best surgical teams in the world, and quickly flown to a waiting person who perhaps has been ill for a long time, praying for hope. Maybe their family has been worried and has cried out to God, like ours has for Chris.

So when I heard that Blaine decided to go through all of this just because he had a spare and figured someone could use it, I felt a little undone. I will wait until Chris writes him back, but I want to write to Blaine as well, to tell him how much his gift meant to all of us. Chris’s kidney from Blaine is better than a sibling’s would have been. The match is so incredible. Chris’s weekly, then monthly, blood tests have shown how compatible and powerful this 28 year-old kidney from Texas is. Magnus moved in, rolled up his sleeves, and got to work making things right for Chris, making red blood cells, getting rid of toxins that had built up, controlling his blood pressure, allowing him to get off medications he’d been taking for years, and giving his four children a father who was no longer in severe kidney failure.

Blaine from Amarillo…. there are no words. Thank you, thank you, thank you. God bless you, keep you, help you. God answer your prayers, make Himself real to you, give you back a hundred times what you have done for our family! Your gift was life-changing.

Do you have a spare kidney? Most of you do. Some of you might want to just go to this site and start the process of finding out if your spare could give some young children more years with their mom. Or give a wife a renewed chance with a beloved husband of many years. It could make sure a teacher keeps on teaching her students, or a nice neighbor can keep walking his dog. Do you know you don’t have to pay a penny of the cost of your donation? That you will be reimbursed for your travel, gas, meals, work missed? That you can receive a tax donation if you’re a donor? You never have to commit. You can go through the whole screening process and decide at the last minute that you don’t want to donate, and you’ll be respected and honored and never pressured. They gave me many opportunities to change my mind and I never felt pressured. I would do this again in a heartbeat, and have never once regretted my decision. My remaining kidney Verna is busy taking up the slack that Justine left, and statistics show that kidney donors do not have a lower life-expectancy because of their donation.

I have been waiting to hear from my recipient in Madison, Wisconsin. Is it a man or woman? Very old or closer to my age? Does he/she have children or grandchildren? I don’t need a big thank you, but I yearn to know more about the person who has Justine working hard for them now. I signed a release at the Mayo Clinic, giving my permission and email to my recipient and inviting their correspondence, but haven’t heard a peep. It has been almost five months — is it too soon to expect something? Might I never receive a note at all? Yes, that’s possible.

But now that Chris’s donor Blaine reversed the protocol and didn’t wait for Chris to write to him, I’m wondering if I can do the same, and send a note to my recipient, asking Mayo to forward it on?

What do you think? Should I wait a while longer? Should I take pen in hand and send my own note?

Well, just like I love Mondays, I love the day after Christmas. I love slowly puttering in my home, putting things away, cleaning the kitchen, making things orderly again. I threw in a load of laundry this morning at 5:00 a.m. after waking at 4:30. I finished Round One of cleaning the kitchen. I’ll be carrying boxes down to the garage to put in our recycler, will vacuum my bedroom, pay a few bills. I wrote a couple of thank you notes by my bedroom fireplace this morning while listening to the CD I linked to in the first part of this blog post. I worked on my CBS lesson, wrote in my gratitude journal, prayed for loved ones.

Was your Christmas a lot different this year? Or not? What was the highlight of your day?

And, do you know anyone who might consider giving a kidney? If so, please feel free to send them the link to this blog post if you think they might want to know more from someone’s personal experience. You can also search on the left top side of my blog, type in “kidney” and all the more detailed sharing about my kidney donation will come up.

God bless you all, and God bless Blaine from Amarillo,


  1. Steve says:

    I don’t know why the thought came to me to check your blog. I had not done so for well over a year. Perhaps the Lord knew I could use some encouragement, some sign of “tov”. We lost our beloved daughter Erin to cancer in August. She was the best of us. So kind and generous beyond measure. Jesus clearly resided in her. She never passed a stray dog, cat or human without inviting them into her home.

    Your story of donating your kidney and witnessing a stranger doing the same was just the witness I needed today. Reminded me that God is always at work in our broken world.

    You’re quite the human Julie. Amazing what God’s love did for my coach’s skinny blond haired little girl.

  2. Just Julie says:

    Dearest Steve. My eyes filled with tears when I read your words and saw what you and your family have been through. I am so very sorry for your loss. What a void a daughter like Erin leaves. I pray that in that void, the comfort of Jesus fills it in ways you know could only be Him. My love and prayers for you, friend. And I know those believers who stop in here will lift you up as well. God hold and keep you. xoxo

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