Meditations of the Heart and When the Heart Speaks, Listen

One of my favorite Howard Thurman books is Meditations of the Heart.  It was the first of his more than 20 books that I purchased which I gave to my husband as a present.  But then I started reading it and knew that I wanted to know more about this profound man and his life.  The meditations spoke to the core of my being as Howard Thurman asks his readers to ponder more deeply what is at the heart of our daily living.  Are we willing to open our hearts and listen more deeply to the call of the Eternal?

As a spiritual director/companion and retreat leader I am often ask me what drew me to the spiritual path after leading a life as a driven, tough, no nonsense professor and college administrator.  I’d been interested in spirituality since I was first introduced to meditation in college.  Like Howard Thurman,  I realized that I was enamored with silence, stillness and solitude and understood that my spirituality was flavored with a contemplative bent.

Despite my spiritual inclinations, my life was dominated by a strong, competitive, type A ego.  In the midst of my drive to achieve fame in the field of psychology, at age 40 I was catapulted into a physical and spiritual crisis.  The diagnosis that a lifelong heart condition had become a life-threatening cardiomyopathy and required a heart transplant triggered the terror which lies in every ego and sparked my spirit simultaneously.  What aided my survival was a re-focus toward inner listening.  This shift manifested as a series of conversations with my old and new hearts as I traversed the unknown and frightening world of a heart transplant recipient.

It all began when I sought therapy because the symptoms of heart failure—shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen ankles, weight loss began to permeate my life.  I could no longer deny that my body was deteriorating.  My therapist who specialized in clients with chronic health conditions and whose approach tended to be eclectic suggested that I utilize a Jungian technique labeled “active imagination” and talk with my heart.

What I imagined would be a solo conversation evolved into twenty-two months of conversations with my hearts—the old one that I lost and the new one that I gained with a transplant.  Their guidance was unparalleled as I rode a real life roller coaster. Despite the fact that I wrote these dialogues to maintain my own sanity, I shared them with a few friends who urged me to distribute them more widely by writing a book.  Perhaps others could benefit from my suffering as well as my triumphs.

The conversations in When the Heart Speaks, Listen-Discovering Inner Wisdom showed me how to uncover the peace and joy in my heart similar to the deep peace and joy I feel  in reading Howard Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart.  With both books, there is an invitation to engage in deep inner listening each pointing to a heart that is always available for solace, guidance, consolation and wisdom.  As Thurman writes, “In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.”  I hope both of these books will inspire you to listen and talk with your heart so you too can uncover more of the peace and joy that lies within.

When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom and Meditations of the Heart are available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million and can also be ordered through your favorite independent book seller. 

Escape from Fear—Part One

As human spirits, I believe it is our birthright to live in a state of peace and joy.  So each morning the first thing I ask myself is, “Am I feeling peace and joy right now?  If not, why not?”  Next I proceed to search my mind and heart for some thought or feeling that might be blocking my sense of serenity and jubilation.  Often the impediment is linked to some element of fear.

Lately, I have become aware of how I, and the individuals I meet with in spiritual direction, are held hostage by fear.  Easily and quickly I can enumerate a list of fears and how they puncture my peace and steal my joy.  As I reflect on my many apprehensions as well as those I hear in the sacred stories of others, I wonder how we all might lead lives of greater inner freedom.  In “Escape from Fear-Part One,” I will name and describe some fears and in Part Two, discuss potential antidotes.  The fears I address here include the fear to follow my heart’s desires, fear of rejection, fear of success/failure, fears associated with a psychological syndrome called “time urgency perfectionism”  and fears about the body.   Clearly, many people suffer with serious anxiety often requiring medication and therapy.  However, in the next two blogs, my focus is on the common fears that permeate daily living.

Many years ago, I started my career journey.  I knew I needed to take a year off after college but I was afraid I might never return to graduate school.  So despite my trepidations, I entered a PhD program.  I wasn’t particular happy studying social psychology because I had always been drawn to counseling.  I yearned to help people with everyday problems like loss of a job, divorce, or death of a loved one.  But I persevered because I had enrolled at Harvard University and I was afraid to disappoint my family or appear as if I lacked the intelligence or determination to finish their doctoral program.  As I prepared to graduate, I considered pursuing post-doctoral studies in counseling.  Completion of a few requisite courses and some internship hours would have led me to my dream.  Yet I was afraid to turn down the outstanding job offers I’d obtained at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Duke University, and UC San Diego.  I continued to walk this journey allowing fear to act as my oppressor.  I  permitted concerns about money, reputation, and living up to the perceived expectations of others pin me down onto a path of unhappiness.  It wasn’t that I lacked courage but I wanted certain and calculated outcomes.  I wasn’t a risk taker. 

Recently, I awoke panicked wondering if I was doing enough to promote the release of my new book, When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom.  Last summer, I anguished for several days about asking a prominent person for an endorsement.  I feared he would say no or worse yet, read my book and tell me he couldn’t endorse it.  I was experiencing the fear of rejection.  I prayed and finally summoned the inner strength to email him.  He was delighted to write a lovely endorsement. Later I realized what a senseless fear this was. 

Last month I spoke with a woman I hadn’t seen in years.  When Amelia heard that I was publishing a book, she shared her desire to write one as well.  After a recent speaking engagement Amelia was approached by a book editor about a potential book project.  Yet she never followed up.  I was shocked.  Writers send thousands of query letters each day seeking a literary agent or an editor.  I wondered about this bright professional woman—was it fear of success or fear of failure that was kept Amelia from pursuing her aspiration particularly when an editor had expressed interest in her work?

I find that fear of success and fear of failure are different sides of the same coin—fear.  Fear is the way in which the ego inhibits intelligent and competent people from expressing their deepest passions.  Fear of failure is often linked to concerns about making mistakes, being embarrassed or not living up to the expectations of others as I mentioned earlier.  Fear of success is frequently related to an underlying sense of unworthiness.  Sometimes we don’t think we deserve success and happiness because somewhere someone usually a parent, relative, teacher or supervisor, suggested we lacked some essential attribute; a skill, intelligence, physical attractiveness or other characteristic.

A close cousin to fear of success and failure is time urgency perfectionism.  I notice this fear seeping into my days and controlling my life.  Most people are familiar with the notion of perfectionism but perhaps not paired with a time component.   In Faster, Better Sicker, researchers identified a personality type associated with Time Urgency Perfectionism Stress (TUPS).  They write, “These are people who always like things to be perfect and therefore attempt to achieve perfectionism within a defined time frame.”  Such people constantly watch the clock, worry about deadlines and completing tasks perfectly.  The lives of time urgent perfectionists become encased in fear—they agitate over errors and fear there is never enough time.  Yet living from an inner world dominated by fear, experiences of peace and joy elude one’s grasp.  

Occasionally I feel heart palpitations.  In the past, my thoughts would immediately begin to race and descend into a downward spiral. I would tremble about what might be wrong with my body.  I’d wondered—did I need to go to the ER, urgent care or set up an appointment with my cardiologist.  Similarly, I hear about family members, friends of family members, and others who develop preventable health conditions.  Typically, an unwillingness to seek medical attention and then follow the doctor’s instructions is partially to blame.  Some people dig in with denial.  “Oh that pain in my arm—it’s nothing.  I was lifting heavy boxes.”  I cried as I read in Becoming, about Michele Obama losing her precious father.  He was afraid to see what was beyond his swollen feet, and nodule in his neck.  Her dad kept working until it was too late after which there was no possibility for recovery.  I have heard this story far too many times as I reflect on the losses of loved ones in my own life.  Perhaps underlying all of the apprehensions about the body is the fear of death.

Which fears are holding you hostage in your life right now?  When is the last time you felt some deep peace and how long did it last?  And what about joy?  Does joy feel absent in your life, more like an infrequent visit from a long lost love rather than being central to your life?  In “Escape from Fear-Part Two,” I will discuss how we might break the chains of fear.  Meanwhile, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on which fears keep you from feeling the peace and joy in your heart.

Antonio Rodriquez, Edward Wolff, Many Wolff, Faster, Better, Sicker-Time Urgency Perfectionism Stress, available on Amazon as a Kindle download.

Have You Ever Communicated With Your Heart?

Read about how I survived a heart transplant 24 years ago by talking with and listening to my heart.

This book is now available online at blackrosewriting.com, charisbooksandmore.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million and can also be ordered through your favorite independent book seller.

What people are saying about this book:

“Lerita Coleman Brown gave me both a unique biographical thriller and valuable psychological and spiritual insights in this book. The “thriller” is not knowing what will happen next as she took me step by step through her experience of receiving a heart transplant, and its impact on her life.  The insights come from her honest and sometimes humorous dialogues with both her old and her new heart, leading to her advocacy for the reader to pause daily and listen to the deep wisdom and love that our hearts can show us. That listening helps to free us from the dominance of our ego-centered emotions, such as anger, resentment, depression, anxiety, jealousy and fear. The reflection questions along the way gave me an opportunity to examine my own psychological and spiritual experience. I think many readers will find this book both a delight and a helpful guide to truer and fuller personal living.”

Rev. Tilden Edwards, PhD, Founder and Senior Fellow, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, author of numerous books.

“In When the Heart Speaks, Listen, Lerita Coleman Brown has given us a rare gift indeed for she has allowed us to join her on a spiritual journey that is both fraught with danger and, ultimately, thoroughly transformative.  Both figuratively and literally, Brown had to let go of her old heart and find a way to accept and to live with a new one.  This intimate and innovative memoir about what constitutes true holistic healing will leave one moved, enlightened and profoundly inspired.”

Jan Willis,  Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Religious Studies, Wesleyan University and  author of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist

Lerita is courageous–literally.  Her willingness to share these conversations with her hearts–both of them–left me awestruck.  I read this book through tears as my own heart vibrated at the lessons I need to learn in my own life.  There is Truth in this book.  Be prepared.  You will be transformed.

Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church and co-editor of the upcoming book, Contemplation and Community.

“Down through the ages, philosophers, mystics and psychologists have proposed any number of conceptualizations of the elaborate interconnections between the human mind, body and spirit.  For Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown, however, these dynamic interconnections are beyond theoretical; they are vibrantly real.   Dr. Brown has facilitated regular conversations between her own mind, body and soul throughout her 24-year experience as an organ transplant survivor.  The result has taken her beyond mere survival to the construction of a beautifully spiritual and meaningful life.  In When the Heart Speaks, Listen she shares her remarkable and unique experience with all of us. What a wonderful gift!”

Arthur C. Jones, Ph.D., Clinical psychologist, professor, author of “Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals and Founder of the Spirituals Project.

“Captivating!!  In speaking from the heart, Lerita Coleman Brown provides readers with a gift: the roadmap for how to open your heart. She shares her inspiring story of triumph over adversity and all odds, to source true meaning, divine purpose, love, and heartfelt connection.”

Beth Darnall, Ph.D., Clinical Professor, Stanford University School of Medicine, author ofThe Opioid-Free Pain Relief Kit, Less Pain, Fewer Pills,  and Psychological Treatment for Chronic Pain.

Cultivating Patience III-Learning to Trust

As I yearn for more vitality and verve,  I remember that patience is also about trust.  It is trust that after all of the waiting, a healing outcome awaits me.  I believe that someday my full energy will return and I will use it for something that moves me beyond a life that necessarily focuses on my schedule, my personal needs and desires.  Waiting tends to highlight everything that isn’t working or feeling right without considering that it is likely to change tomorrow.

By accepting the call to the transplant journey and all of the lessons that it entailed, I learned to trust that whatever I needed would be provided.  I trusted that a new heart would arrive before the old one ceased.  I trusted that a kidney donor would emerge so I wouldn’t be tied to a dialysis machine three times a week.  I believed that somehow the bills would be paid even though I couldn’t work during my recoveries from various illnesses.

It is easy to lose patience, to get caught up in the “I want it now” world that whirls around me.  From the depths of a life absent of delayed gratification, I attempt to exert my own will over time and how it operates, over doctors and pharmacies and how they quickly they take care of me.  I desire cashiers to move quickly, to promptly take care of the people ahead of me in the grocery store line or at the local cafe.  I want people to hurry at the ATM, to fill their gas tanks at record speed.  I, like many people wish everyone and everything would move faster because my plans  do not allow for too much waiting.   Yet if errors occur I’d be the first to become outraged by a perceived incompetence.  I suppose I have not totally embraced the lessons I thought I had mastered about trust from my many years of waiting.

I wonder why I am so resistant to the trust inherent in the practice of patience, why I must rehearse it like a piano lesson or sports training.  Certainly to develop strong trust, I must engage in smaller acts of surrender.  I recall the times when the anesthesiologist placed the mask on my face in the OR and told me to count down from 10.  I  trusted that I would wake up somewhere and see the familiar faces of those I loved.  I hoped that there would be an end to my suffering and I would return to my normal schedule of waking up in my own bed, preparing breakfast, driving to work, or just sitting on my deck before a forest of trees and singing birds.

Last time I took a silent retreat, I stumbled across a book on the crowded book shelves of the large reading lounge/kitchenette, a room filled with overstuffed couches, padded lounging and rocking chairs with a window open to endless bird watching.  In Jesus, A New Vision-Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship, Marcus Borg states that faith must move beyond mere belief and become radical trust in God, an unprecedented reliance on the Force of Love that created me, us, and the universe.  Radical trust in something other than myself, doctors, and  medications is essential to my experience of peace and joy.  The idea of letting go used to be scary.  Now knowing that I don’t have to manage or take care of everything is comforting.

As I prepared for my first transplant I engaged in a series of conversations with my heart.  My old heart, so full of wisdom whispered to me one day that there were four things I needed to master to successfully survive a transplant and thrive for rest of my life.   “Listen, trust, patience, and surrender” it murmured.  Pause, be still and listen to the guidance that is always present.  Trust the still, quiet voice of inner wisdom over the many chanting voices that emerge from old wounds, fresh wounds, shortsighted family or friends and the media.  Be patient since my timing may not coincide with a Universal timing.  And surrender–give up trying to control everything because it is simply impossible.

Thus, surrender is essential to the trust required for patience.  It’s the relinquishing control over how and when the healing will unfold and accepting each day as it comes instead of creating relentless plans that are frequently uprooted by life.  Yes, life—traffic delays, a sudden phone call announcing that a loved one is terminally ill, a friend needing bail money or sobbing because a spouse has filed for divorce.  I cannot change circumstances but I am able to listen for my role in assuaging the suffering be it a loving and peaceful presence, a listening ear or temporary holder of anguish and anxious concern.

I don’t like suspense, a sense of not knowing.  I don’t like dwelling in the liminal space—not there yet but not here anymore.  I am more comfortable with predictability.  Yet I believe that some unseen Force is working somewhere, somehow with me to orchestrate my life.

Trust and patience—two interconnected paths that need nurturance and work, and hours of practice, going over the same ground again and again and again.  So in what areas do you need to cultivate trust?  Do you possess the trust that patience demands?  How can trust and patience help to eliminate or dissipate anxiety, anxiousness, or sadness and allow you to feel more of the Peace and Joy in your heart?

Cultivating Patience II: The Gift of Waiting

As someone with a chronic illness
I needed to cultivate patience
From the beginning of the perpetual diagnosis
To the endless minutes, hours, days, months, and years of
Waiting

Patience is waiting…

Waiting to go on the UNOS list
Waiting for the beeper to alert me to
A future of waiting

Waiting in waiting areas and hallways
Waiting on exam tables
Waiting for teams of doctors, nurses, residents, social workers
Their voices hushed
“It is day 7 for patient, Coleman, Lerita”

Waiting in freezing cath labs
Waiting for warm blankets
Waiting to be called for the next peering into my body
Sounds waves of my heart, x-rays of my lungs
Enlarged heart masking the exhausted gasping into breathlessness

Anxious waiting by the phone only to hear
“You’re in rejection.  We will increase your medications
Please report to the clinic next Wednesday at 7:30 am to repeat your biopsy…”

Waiting to be home again, really home
With no threat of a return to
Beeping monitors, early morning blood draws
3 am awakenings to a cold x-ray plate poked behind my back
Relentless repeats of Law & Order playing on the TV perched in front of my hospital bed
Sweet young people shaking me from stolen rest to check my vitals

Waiting to sleep in my own bed
To sit across from my husband at my table, in my kitchen with colorful wall paper
To eat my own food on my pretty plates at any time I want
Not 8 am, 12 pm, and 5 pm with eggless eggs, cold toast, too much jello, turkey and gravy
A dose of evening meds with stale crackers doused down with ice chipped water

Yes patience, not seemingly a gift at first
But earned on the path to a recovered verve and a gradual spiritual awakening
Which comes only through waiting and waiting and waiting…

Where are you on the journey to patience, to learning the balance between taking charge at every step and surrendering, receiving the gifts that only waiting can provide?  Like a train stop on the road to a new inner destination, how is patience being nurtured in you?  How is patience working to unearth more of the Peace and Joy in your heart?

Cultivating Patience I

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I haven’t posted to my blog in a few months.  I miss writing about maintaining peace and joy.  I was forced to shift my attention elsewhere when I began a protocol to wean off of prednisone.

For organ transplant recipients, prednisone is a steroid used to suppress the immune system and prevent organ rejection.  When I first began taking prednisone some 21 years ago, I took a fairly high daily dose although for the last 10 years it has been reduced to 5 mg/day.

Over the years I’ve received the “prednisone blast” for various bouts of rejection.  In most transplant centers, a serious rejection episode elicits 1000 mg of prednisone I-V (known as solumedrol) for 3 days in a row.  Because my early rejection issues weren’t treated aggressively enough, in 2000 from January to June I received 13,000 mg of solumedrol.  My body, inundated with steroids felt like an overblown, bloated balloon.  Over a period of about four weeks, each day I could feel a tiny trickle of steroids slowly ebb from my head to my shoulders, passing through my back and abdomen, down my legs and finally seep out of my toes.  Unfortunately I’m allergic to contrast dye so each year for my annual heart catheterization, I receive a very high dose of prednisone as a way of quelling any reaction.  Such blasts led to debilitating fatigue because the adrenal glands are most susceptible to the prednisone beatdown.

I’d wanted to stop taking prednisone for a long time but was always fearful that discontinuing it would trigger another rejection episode and as a consequence I would have to take more.  Long term use of prednisone frequently causes weight gain, fluid retention, increased blood sugars raising the probability of developing diabetes, early cataracts and glaucoma, osteoporosis, mood changes and adrenal gland suppression.  I had experienced all of these and knew I did not want to become a diabetic, break any more bones, or undergo cataract surgery.  This year felt like the right time to intentionally change the course of my health by requesting that I eliminate prednisone from my medical regimen.

Since that time, my listless adrenal glands so used to the prednisone working for them, have failed to secrete ample cortisol.  They have been unable to resume their role as producers of the natural steroids that give me the zip I need to get through the day.  Feeling extremely exhausted I’ve lacked the energy to write, sew, cook or do much more than read or rest.  Fortunately I haven’t suffered much stress lately because my adrenal glands are in no shape to mount a response to any kind of trauma.

In continuing my life-long recovery, I’ve learned many lessons, and the biggest is about patience. I’ve been reminded during this now more than two month ordeal that patience is about timing but typically not my timing.  Patience is about waiting and I, firmly immersed in our fast paced world, find the practice of patience exceedingly challenging.  Earlier in my life, when I pushed through college and graduate school, and even attempts to obtain tenure, I felt I had mastered delayed gratification.  As I’ve gotten older I still find I must muster up patience with myself, with others and the slow process of healing.

I thought I would have cultivated the art of patience by now especially since I’ve been presented with so many opportunities.  I think of the time I’ve spent waiting; waiting in doctor offices, post-op recovery rooms, and pharmacies.  I am grateful, however for the progress I’ve made from my initial days as a transplant recipient.  I used to sit in clinic, watching the clock, often growing resentful about what I could be doing with all that time I felt I was wasting waiting.  Sitting on the burgundy and navy blue leather chairs and couches, with lamps and indirect sunlight I pretended to read, but what I really wanted was for someone to call my name so I could finish the x-ray or speed up the echocardiogram and get on with my day.  Now I realize that waiting is just as important to life as the things on my preferred “to do list.”  When I reflect on my state of impatience, I feel the poignancy of my self-absorption, emotionally and cognitively.   I was thinking primarily about me, my time and my life.

But what about all the others who shared this waiting space with me in clinic?  What about the newly transplanted, anxiously awaiting news about possible rejection or those in heart failure wishing and hoping to just qualify for the organ waiting list that they might have to occupy for years?   It occurred to me one day that perhaps I could use the waiting time to encourage and uplift recent transplant recipients with my stories of triumph, I could demonstrate to those waiting for heart transplants that there is the possibility of a good life once they receive a new heart.  Often I elicit surprise and shock by my healthy physical appearance, at the spark I radiate after being a heart transplant recipient for over 21 years and a kidney recipient for over 11 years.

Now I wait with much petitionary (“Please somebody give me some energy!”) and contemplative prayer (being still and listening for guidance), and I’ve started to receive answers.  First I learned that cardiologists are not endocrinologists and although my transplant team believed they were weaning me off prednisone at a reasonable schedule  (2 months), I learned from an endocrinologist that people who have taken steroids as long as I have cannot be weaned so abruptly.  It actually takes more like 4-6 months.  She assured me that my adrenal glands would wake up eventually but I need to give them more time, time for a gentle stirring, a gradual awakening.  Yes, more waiting, a seeming metaphor for my life and my spiritual journey.

I am struck by this notion of a gradual awakening of something that has been asleep for a long while.  I suppose just like my adrenal glands lulled to sleep by prednisone many years ago, I am also waking up to a new spirit or sense of who I am.  Of course I want the spiritual awakening to move much faster, perhaps in a flash or overnight.  My arrogant ego wants to orchestrate the awakening perhaps thereby blocking something more intelligent and grander which may be working simultaneously to diminish my suffering.

I am comforted by the notion that I am not the only one resisting the liminal space, the only person sitting in a perennial holding pattern, waiting to wake up in a new expanse of Peace and Joy.  Whether it be hospitals or monasteries, war zones or prayer circles, there are so many communities of people, waiting.

What is it that you are waiting for right now?  How is patience being cultivated in your life?  As you pay closer attention, what is life showing you through the waiting?  What are you being called to do or be in the waiting time?   Perhaps there is some way to inspire and encourage others who share your path of waiting.  There is a reason why patience is considered a virtue and often its cultivation may help to uncover more of the Peace and Joy in your heart.

Photo by Columbus H. Brown of Candid Imagery Fine Art.

Give Life

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April is Donor Awareness month and a time to promote the DONATE LIFE movement.  The term “Donor Awareness” serves to remind us of the thousands of people awaiting life-saving organ transplants.  I am eternally grateful to the Goetz family for donating the heart of their precious daughter and sister, Jody to me more than 21 years ago.  And I continue to thank my “kidney sister,” Jennifer Lund for rescuing me from renal failure in May, 2005, nearly 11 years ago.  I love the logo and label DONATE LIFE as a representation for the miracle that transplantation is.  During my transplant journey I learned a lot about the gift of life and how each of us can give life every day.

Although we frequently equate life with the body, the gift of life reflects something far beyond an organ donation.  With my transplants, I received more than new organs.  I gained a certain vitality, energy if you will from many sources.  After the heart transplant I noticed the over 250 cards and notes some sent from people I didn’t know or had never met.  My mother set them out anywhere she could find a spot; on bookshelves, window sills, on top of the television, nightstand, my desk, and on the kitchen counters.  Each one gave me a spark of energy, of life.  I felt loved knowing that people thought enough of me to take the time to purchase a card and write encouraging words.  Other folks brought food, visited and sat with me, arose before dawn to transport and accompany me on clinic visits.  In fact, each woman in a support group I belonged to many years ago in Detroit took a week of vacation time to care for me when my mother’s family leave ran out.  They traveled by bus, train, airplane, crossing over during  weekends like nurses changing shifts in the hospital.  They cooked meals, made beds, washed clothes, propped up pillows, entertained visitors, talked with nurses and handed me pills with water.  Each friend brought me the gift of life by sharing extraordinary love in their ordinary actions.

This scenario was repeated with slight variations after I spent a month in the hospital in 2003 in heart transplant rejection, after surgery for a kidney transplant in 2005, and heart valve replacement surgery in 2006.  People brought lunch and dinner for weeks.   I felt soothed by the nourishing, life-giving food that neither Warren nor I had to prepare.   Other friends and acquaintances offered respite time for Warren by taking him fishing or allowing him to go to the barbershop, run errands or tinker with his photography.  They sent books, quotes, emails, and pictures, while allowing me to rest when I needed to.   Again the loving energy conveyed in these acts of kindness enlivened me.

I realized that people do not have to be seriously ill for me to give life.  A certain zest is exchanged when I smile and acknowledge a stranger.  Or if I am intentionally kind to an anonymous, fatigued clerk in the store, I know I convey a vivacity that spreads like a virus spurring energy from person to person.  When I take a moment to listen deeply, to take a genuine interest in another person I know my action triggers a certain verve.  Now I enjoy accompanying family and friends to medical appointments and outpatient procedures.  Besides paying the kindness extended to me back, there’s a certain joyous contentment that pervades our time together.

Perhaps the larger theme embedded in the Donate Life campaign is that there we have so much life to give.  We come alive when we connect and share whatever we have with others whether it is an organ transplant, food, time or joy.  Warren, a site leader for a  community garden, likes to grow organic vegetables for our table and also for the local food pantry.  Each year the Stone Mountain Community garden donates about 1000 lbs. of fresh, organic vegetables for people with vouchers standing in line to feed their families.  I like to pray and send positive vibes to strangers.  I recently encountered Mary who like me was recovering in the heart catheterization lab during my annual heart transplant check-up.  Her husband told me she was going to need surgery for an aneurysm they had discovered in her heart.  I assured him I would pray for her.  Other times I create names like “Bob,” “Tim,” “Gloria,” or “Susan” for the homeless people with signs on the side of the road or pushing grocery carts with their belongings down the street and add them to my prayer list.  I believe when I pray I am sending each person some life energy.  Helping, giving time, love, and energy or praying for others promotes life.  On the contrary I notice that confrontations and conflicts that I might have in person or on the phone sap my energy.

Often as a culture, we tend to reserve the giving spirit for certain times of the year like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  But look at the countless ways we can “donate” or give life to others.  Possibly you’ve considered becoming an organ donor and have signed up on the Donate Life website.  Thank you.  Maybe you cannot donate or have not encountered a situation where an organ was needed.  Yet opportunities to give life abound and in giving life, you receive it back—you observe in yourself a certain vigor and vitality that may have been absent before.  It is in the giving spirit that you truly receive the gift of life.

C. S. Lewis said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of your self less.”  I would add that instead of trying to get more out of life, when I give more life it returns to me more than ten fold.  And to give life in all the ways it has been given to me leads me to the peace and joy in my heart.

#DonateLife     #peaceforhearts