Twenty days ago, Gwen Green watched as Erlanger hospital nurses pushed her husband, Paul, into one operating room, and her son, Charles, into the other. Paul, beloved across the city for his long and fruitful work with Hope for the Inner City, has been suffering from an autoimmune disease called end-stage renal failure.
His kidneys were dying.
He needed a transplant.
Months ago, quietly and secretly, their son Charles, a gradue of McCallie School, Albion College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, had gone for testing in Chicago, where he lives and works.
He was a perfect donor match.
Which meant Charles was willing to risk his own life for his father's.
Gwen wasn't surprised.
Paul Green had lain a foundation of integrity and sacrificial giving for all of his children. Not just those born to him but children attending New City Fellowship, children entering the doors of Hope for the Inner City, children entrusted to him by families around the country for one week each summer, all of whom followed his admonishments that to be a follower of Jesus Christ means loving and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It made perfect sense to a son to lay down his life for the man who had never withheld anything from him.
It all made perfect sense.
But then, it all didn't.
Visit caringbridge.com and Gofundme.com/giving-back-to-the-greens and Lookout Mountain Mercy Fund at Generosity Trust.
In the days after surgery, the Greens have been to the edge of death and back. A crisis of faith. The dark hospital night of the soul.
I asked Gwen to tell the story; she asked instead if she could write it.
She believes in words.
Or rather, The Word.
Her testimony reads not as a diary or journal, but more like hospital psalms. Her words, italicized throughout this column, reflect these days where, as one friend noted, she and her family were being "sifted like wheat."
What do you do when the bottom falls out from under you?
When God, like C.S. Lewis' Aslan, reminds you that although He is good, He isn't safe?
At first, the surgery seemed a success. Charles' transplant kidney was healthy, pink and functioning in Paul.
Around the world, people were praying. Funds — at the Lookout Mountain Mercy Fund and a GoFundMe.org site — continued to grow to help cover the mountain of medical costs.
And God is good. Right?
Good son offers kidney to great dad plus exemplary surgical team covered in prayers from people far and wide equals successful outcome.
This equation proved true ... for close to 30 minutes.
Soon after the operation, Paul turned non-responsive, began to bleed and was rushed back into surgery.
There in the hospital, Gwen collapsed to the floor.
As my legs crumpled underneath me, I found myself on my knees on the floor in Charles' room. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my loyalty to my Christian convictions was being tested like never before. Would I be a fair-weather disciple? Someone who adored Jesus because He was compliant and followed my instructions? Or would I, like Job, declare through my tears that ' though He slay me, yet will I trust in him ...'?
The artery that attached to Paul's new kidney had come undone.
There in Charles's room, the family huddled, caught in the purgatory of not-knowing: would he live? Die? Would the transplant work? Or fail?
From somewhere, the words of a Gospel hymn filled the room.
Somehow Charles, still in anesthesia-sleep, had begun to sing:
"If your heart is broken ...
"Just lift your hands and say ...
"I know that I can make it ...
"I know that I can stand ...
"No matter what may come my way ...
"My life is in your hands!"
Charles would remember none of that moment, yet his anaesthesia-solo became a symbol for the Green journey: broken-hearted praise in the midst of suffering.
Prior to observing Paul and Charles sign admission papers in their respective rooms the first adjective that I would use to describe God would have been "good."
However, after standing by Paul's bedside begging God for just one more day to spend with him, to have a single opportunity to hear his tenor voice, and the chance to tell him that I love him, the word that best describes God?
Mercifully, Paul is still with us.
He isn't the same person who entered Erlanger hospital that day, nor am I. Disaster was the implement of grace that God used to remind us that He isn't just good, but He is equally merciful.
He is mercifully with us to keep His promise to never leave nor forsake us.
A recent biopsy showed the transplant kidney was damaged and not functioning well.
The family has begun to search for a new dialysis clinic.
And there is rage and grief and furious disappointment.
One recent morning, NBC's "Today" show played on the hospital TV in Paul's room; a segment announced "an amazing story" from somewhere in the U.S. about a family with a successful kidney transplant who ...
Gwen snapped off the TV, wanting to scream and hurl the remote across the room.
"What happened to us?" she shouted. "What didn't we do that we should have done or done that we shouldn't have?"
Then, she began to weep.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.