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“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” John 11:5-6
I’ve always wondered why Jesus waited. I’ve heard many things said about this over the years. Recently I’ve developed my own theory. It’s not easy when the people we love get sick. It is overwhelming, we feel inadequate and we don’t know what to do. We go to all sorts of places in our heads. I know I do. I tell myself that the sickness will pass, that it won’t be serious, that people know I am busy and they won’t expect me to help. I think of all the other people that I know who are helping and I go to a place of denial. I pretend that it isn’t really happening. Denial is a wonderful way to ease our conscious. We make all sorts of excuses don’t we!
We know that when we wade into a situation, when we become more informed, then we are going to feel responsible to help somehow. We already feel responsible for so many things and the burden of another person’s problem is too much. Maybe Jesus thought that if he waited a bit longer the situation would pass, that somehow Lazarus was going to get better without him having to intervene. I read this passage the other day and for the first time I realized that going back to Judea was difficult for Jesus. I know this because when he finally decided that he should go to see Lazarus, his disciples said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” I love Thomas. He said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Maybe Jesus was anxious about going back and what it was going to be like for him. It’s hard to go back into some situations isn’t it!
When Sam first got diagnosed with Leukaemia everyone wanted to help. Sam’s friends used to say, “Whatever you need just let us know.” What we really mean is, “I have no idea how to help you but if you can think of a way I am willing.” Often we are willing but we honestly don’t know what to do. I remember the nurse who headed up the bone marrow transplants used to say to Sam, “If your friends want to help tell them to donate stem cells.” Back in the beginning I didn’t really know what that meant. I didn’t know then that without stem cells Sam would eventually die. I guess we were like Jesus was about Lazarus. We were completely in faith that “This sickness will not end in death.”
It took us from late January to early May 2009 to discover that the chemotherapy wasn’t enough to cure Sam of Leukaemia. We had done all the preliminary tests to see if Emma or Jack were a sibling match, like the 30% of siblings that are. When we made the discovery that neither of them were a match for Sam we didn’t feel too concerned. We were still ignorant about Leukaemia and how it steals life; we didn’t fully comprehend the risks. When we did finally comprehend that Sam needed a donor to save her life the transplant nurse reassured us that being Caucasian she had a high chance of being successful in finding one. I know now that this chance was 85% because the American and German registries have many donors who are Caucasian. Four months later a donor was found. Sam’s donor had joined the registry in America because his wife’s friend had Leukaemia and he wanted to help her somehow. He wasn’t a match for his wife’s friend but two years after joining the registry it was discovered that he was a match for Sam.
I don’t want to think about what life would be like for us now if that man had never joined the bone marrow registry in the USA.
The other thing the transplant nurse said to us was that when Sam was better we wouldn’t want to come back. She said, “All the young people say they will come back so that they can encourage others that eventually life gets better again, but they never do. It’s too hard,” she said, “you won’t want to remember what it was like here.”
Those words stuck in our memory and recently Sam and I decided to go back. We felt sick with anxiety even parking the car. The cool wind in the forecourt at the entrance to the hospital was chilling. We waited for the lift in silence and we laughed in recollection when it got stuck on level 8. “They still haven’t fixed that,” Sam said and I held her hand to ask if she was okay. We didn’t really want to go back. We didn’t really want to face the corridors where we waited for 8 months for a donor to be found but we did want to say thank you to amazing nurses who helped us get through.
We made our way round to the ward and saw our favourite nurse heading towards us. “Oh Gawd,” she said, suddenly recognizing Sam as if she were a ghost. It is nearly two years since we transferred from RNSH to St Vincent’s for the transplant. “You said I’d never come back,” Sam said, “and I was always determined that I would.” They hugged and chatted, shared stories and updates. I stood watching the exchange immensely grateful for my daughter’s life.
Going back isn’t easy but sometimes it saves lives. I am reading “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, it talks about human trafficking and tells the story of a girl called Rath who escaped one of the brothels. When asked if she would go back to Kuala Lumpur to try to help locate the brothel so that some more girls could be set free the author says “she turned ashen. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to face that again.’ She wavered, talked it over with her family, and ultimately agreed to go back in the hope of rescuing her girlfriends.”
Sometimes going back to the place where our lives were threatened brings freedom to others. Jesus told his disciples, “A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by the world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” John 11:9-10
When we return we have knowledge we didn’t have when we were in the situation and that knowledge is vital to helping others be free. When Sam was first diagnosed we didn’t know that without an available donor many Leukaemia patients die. We didn’t know that the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry was small or that Australians of mixed heritage are very unlikely to ever find a match. We didn’t know that we would walk the corridors with people who had their whole lives ahead of them only to watch their names erased from the white board beyond the nurses station because their donor was never found. We didn’t know then that it was simple to become a bone marrow transplant donor.
In the beginning we thought bone marrow donation was a barbaric painful operation that involved drilling into the hip bone. We know now that to become a bone marrow donor initially involves giving a small sample of blood. We know that this blood is ‘tissue-typed’ and the information goes into a computer system to see if anyone in the world matches this sample. We know that it could be a week, or a month, or a year or even a few years before they ever find someone who matches the donor. We know that one in 1000 people who donate stem cells may never find a match but if they are a match we know that giving bone marrow is now almost as simple as giving blood. It’s a lot of blood. It may take about 4 hours to give but you will go home afterwards feeling a little tired but I dare say very pious that you’ve just saved a life. You could save a life right now.
As a result of Sam and I going back we also know that there is a boy at RNSH right now who is desperate to find a donor match. For the sake of his privacy we will call him Dan. He is young like Sam and his mum is on a mission to find him a donor. You never know, you could be his match but unless you go to donate stem cells he could be the next name erased from the white board.
When I read about Jesus returning to visit Lazarus the other day I saw the story in a whole new light. Sometimes I forget that Jesus was just like me when he walked the earth. He gets what we are going through. Hebrews 4:15 reminds me, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin.” When Jesus got to Judea he told the disciples to roll the stone away. He waded right in to the depths of the dark cave where death was. It would have been so much easier to just ignore it, to have stayed away, to have gotten on with his life but Jesus knew Lazarus life could be saved.
Is there a situation that could be saved if you were prepared to wade back in?
Can you donate stem cells? More information here.