By His Breath
By His breath the heavens gained their beauty… (Job 26:13a–Christian Standard Bible).
“Someone has to die in order for you to live.”
The words, a startling realization that hit me squarely, hung in the air.
She nodded. Unlike me, she wasn’t new to this truth, and I feared perhaps I’d offended her.
“I’m sorry. Was that too forward?” My hand met my mouth, though I knew it was too late.
But she was quick to calm my worry. “No. Not at all. It’s just the hard truth.”
And it is. You see, my friend Kelly–whose name fittingly means ‘warrior’–is facing her second lung transplant. She suffered from a pulmonary disease called Pulmonary Fibrosis (PF), which causes the normally healthy lung tissue to scar. Eventually, this disease causes shortness of breath (among other symptoms) and, untreated, can ultimately lead to death.
For as long as I’ve known Kelly, she’s had an abnormally raspy voice, and she later developed a dry, chronic cough. It was in 2015, after extensive testing, that she was finally diagnosed with PF, and in June 2019 she underwent her first double lung transplant.
Unfortunately, after all initial pre-rehabilitation, surgery, and post-rehab, this transplant didn’t resolve the problem. While she no longer has PF specifically, Kelly finds herself again at Duke in Durham, NC preparing for her second (and hopefully last) double lung transplant, as the first set was rejected.
It was as we sat on her front porch recently that the realization of what must happen hit me–when I sort of vomited truth right there on our picnic lunch–
“Someone has to die in order for you to live.”
I’m not sure what it was I thought prior to this eureka moment. Being married to a health professional, one would think such knowledge would come naturally, but it doesn’t. Kind of like, when I was a girl and my daddy told me as I cast my line into the center of a neighbor’s pond, “We’re gonna use these fish for fertilizer.” That sounded okay with me, so I fished feverishly, competing with my sister and parents to see who could catch the most Bluegill and Bass.
Once home, I watched as my dad began to take the still flopping fish and lay them in shallow graves in our garden. Horrified, I cried out, “What are you doing?”
“I told you, dear. I’m preparing the soil for summer. These fish are fertilizer.”
For some reason, what he’d told me earlier hadn’t computed, but the moment I realized the fish had to die in order for our garden to offer top-notch tomatoes, corn, and beans, I erupted with indignation. “Stop it! Stop it!” to which my kind and compassionate father conceded, and we never again used this technique but sprinkled or sprayed Miracle-Grow instead.
I tell you this story simply because it’s so similar to my ignorance concerning my friend Kelly. It hadn’t dawned on me that a life would be lost that she might be offered the opportunity to blossom and grow for many more years to come–to experience that exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide that most of us take for granted. To be able to breathe in, breathe out without labor, pain or fear. Because, unlike in the case of a kidney donor, someone’s breath must cease–his or her very life– for the lungs to be harvested for a waiting recipient.
Kelly, my warrior friend, is a fighter. On that day on her porch, we were enjoying lunch and conversation, though only for a few moments. My daughter Allie and I had come to help her and her daughter Hannah, as well as her twin sons Riley and Sam, pack up their home. As we went from room to room, boxing up memories and throwing away or sorting out trash and treasure, Kelly wheeled her oxygen tank, sitting down now and then to rest. Occasionally we’d stop to chat. I’d inquire about a piece of child’s artwork or a photograph, to which she’d reply, “Riley made that in 2nd grade,” or “Wow! Sam sure needed a haircut.”
Over packing tape and cardboard boxes, Kelly told me a bit more of her story–the part that fell in a season in which we’d failed to keep up with one another. It included increased health issues and the mystery surrounding her symptoms and the encompassing sadness over her marriage of 32 years coming to an end. We hugged, and I told her how sorry I was–for her pain and for not being there. “I had no idea,” I lamented, and while that’s true, it falls short and doesn’t justify.
Before Allie and I left that day, our van loaded with items to take to our local Salvation Army, Kelly pulled me aside. “I want to show you something,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. She led me to a covered couch by the window in what had been the family living room. “See this.” She unzipped a plastic hanging clothes bag and removed a beautiful blue dress, its sequence and beading catching the afternoon sunlight, casting diamonds on walls.
“Oh my. It’s lovely,” I crooned.
Kelly was silent a moment, lost in thought. “It was supposed to be the dress I wore when we renewed our wedding vows at the beach…” Her voice trailed off briefly before asking, “Do you think I should keep it?”
It was a reasonable question. Perhaps its lace held too many intricate memories. Unlike earlier, I thought before speaking. “Yes. I think you should. I’m sure you’ll have just the right time and place to wear it one day.”
And then, with a bit of pragmatism, as well as warrior wit, “Maybe I’ll wear it to my funeral.”
Giving my friend a soft slap on the arm, “Not anytime soon. Promise me!”
And she laughed before sucking in oxygen, then releasing it slowly–sucking in, releasing slowly–and we stood for a moment looking at the beautiful blue, beaded dress before she slipped it back into its hanging bag, then laid it down on a couch made ready for the moving van.
Weeks have passed since I’ve seen Kelly, though we text one another from time to time. She’s preparing for her second lung transplant–and, in reality, she’s really waiting for another to die that he or she might offer her life. That’s just the plain truth of the matter.
The fact that my fighter friend knows Jesus–believes that He gave His life that others, like me and her and you, might live–makes all this a bit easier. Like Job, she, too, has faced hardships, has likely even shaken fists at God. Still, her soul, like his, has resigned to rest in God’s broader purposes–to proclaim, These are the fringes of His ways; how faint is the word we hear of Him! Who can understand… (Job 26:14–CSB)?
By faith, my friend knows where she’ll go should she not receive those lungs in time or if, after this second attempt, the transplant doesn’t take. And though I’m prone to say, “Heaven forbid,” she’d say, and I’m sure with a sly smile–
“Heaven for me! And I know just what I’ll be wearing.”
All I can say is that, when that day comes–just as it will for her, for me, and for each of us who knows Jesus–it’s only…
By His breath that Heaven will gain such beauty.
Please join me in praying for my dear warrior friend Kelly Reed. Please pray for her children and extended family too. Please, please pray for the family who will, likely one day soon, lose a loved one–whose lungs will be donated to offer the gift of life to save another.