I am convinced there was an angel among us as my mom and I sat in a hospital waiting room today. He was a middle-aged African-American named James. I believe he was a messenger from God that brought healing and understanding in a way I never imagined possible.
Mom and I were waiting for someone to let us know all had gone well and we could meet Dad back in the recovery room. Mom was knitting and I was on my computer, but I knew both of us were eavesdropping on the conversation between a man and a couple just a few chairs over. Somehow, they had gotten on the topic of organ donation, and the one man started to tell his story about being a recipient of a kidney donation.
He talked about what an incredible selfless gift it was that a live donor, someone he had never meet, had made such a decision. He then said something that I know caught my Mom's attention. He simply said, "Writing the thank you letter to my donor was the hardest thing I have ever done. I could not imagine what it took someone to make that decision. How do you say thanks to someone who has given you the gift of life? How do you put into words the gratefulness you feel each day because you have been given a second chance?" My mom looked at me and with great resolve she simply said, "I think I need to talk to him." "Yes," I said, "I think you do too."
Several years ago, my sister had read a powerful article about live kidney donors, those persons who decide to donate a kidney to another person while they are still living. For months, the idea of being a live kidney donor kept coming to her mind as something she could do; a way she could be of service to another person in need. Without a shadow of doubt, she felt like this was something God was calling her to do. She began to research and start the process of being tested to see if she could qualify to be a live donor.
Yet, most of us, including me, thought it seemed like an extreme way of being in service. Couldn't she just volunteer more time visiting shut ins? Volunteer more time at the soup kitchen? Teach more writing classes to the underprivileged? Why couldn't she just promote the idea of organ donation without doing it herself? It was not like she wasn't already being generous with her time and her resources. Why did she feel like she needed to do something so drastic? And in the eyes of my mom especially, why did my sister feel like she needed to do something that might even be dangerous to her health?
My parents were concerned that she was making a rash decision. Yet, my sister felt like they were not being supportive of her decision. She felt like they were not taking seriously the certainty of the message she believed she was receiving...that this was something she could and should do.
For quite a while it was a topic that she and my parents simply avoided. She did not talk about the tests, the procedures, and the process she was undergoing to prepare to be a donor. Then when she was called by Barnes Hospital in St. Louis to travel from Kansas City one weekend to get ready for donation surgery, she did not even tell my parents she was going. When my parents later found out that she had gone through with being a live kidney donor to someone she had never met, my mom admitted that it was something she did not fully understand.
I believe it was something she did not understand until today. God nudged her to have a conversation with a stranger in a hospital waiting room that was sharing his story about being the recipient of a live kidney donation. She walked over, introduced herself and in turn, he introduced himself to my mom. His name was James.
As my mom shared with James that she had a daughter who had donated a kidney several years ago, he listened. As she told him how she did not understand her daughter's decision, James admitted that he might feel the same way as a father, if it had been one of his children making that decision.
When she confessed that she had not even really wanted to read the thank you letters from the recipient and his family who had received my sister's kidney, James nodded and said he could completely understand how she might have felt.
Then my mom thanked James because he had opened her eyes and had helped her see things from the other side, the side of the recipient of a live organ donation.
As my mom was talking to James, I was texting my sister. My sister asked if I thought Mom might be ready to read some of the thank you letters my sister's kidney recipient and his family had sent. I told my sister I thought my parents were ready to read the letters. She immediately sent me screenshots of some of the letters, which I later shared with my mom and my dad.
The word angel has come into our English language through the Greek word often found in the scriptures-angelos. The original meaning was simply "messenger." Angels were "messengers" of God bringing Good News of hope, healing, and new life. In this season, especially as we retell the stories of the angels in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, we mistakenly think that messengers of God only appeared long ago as ethereal, musical spirits. Yet, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels unaware." (Hebrews 13:2)
There are angels still among us if we listen, if we pay attention and if we respond. They are messengers sent to us to remind us of the presence, possibilities and power of God. Today, for my mom and I, there was an angel; a messenger of God, among us and his name was James.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister