One week ago today, Julia had knee surgery.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t her first.
Julia had her first knee surgery at the tender age of 12, thanks to bad genetics and a knee injury that resulted from running in the house. (There is a reason mothers tell their children not to run inside the house.)
Two years later, my daughter has gone through months of physical therapy, as well as acquired an extensive collection of knee braces. Some are full-leg braces; some simply support only the knee area. She has two different hinge braces that allow a range of motions. Her current brace has a steel rod in the back to completely immobilize the knee. (If you know of someone who needs a knee brace, give me a call. We probably have one in stock that will work!)
Julia and I have been through quite a bit with her right knee.
Still, being told she needed a second knee surgery wasn’t something I felt prepared for. I felt even less prepared when the doctor informed me that during this surgery, he would be giving my girl new tendons. Repairing an injured knee is totally different than reconstructing a knee. Somehow it all felt so much more invasive.
Actually, the point I began to grow truly concerned happened at the very moment Julia’s orthopedic surgeon mentioned that the new tendons would come from a donor. Specifically a cadaver donor. At the word cadaver, I stiffened (pun intended!) … not so much because the idea of using tendons from a cadaver bothered me, but rather because I feared what my teenage daughter’s reaction might be.
Julia either didn’t notice or didn’t care or just didn’t know what the word cadaver meant. She had no response or reaction whatsoever. Rather than try to figure out the reason behind her non-chalant attitude, I decided right then and there that I wasn’t going to risk drawing attention to it by asking her questions. And so for the next two months, no one said anything at all about the use of cadaver tendons in regards to Julia’s upcoming knee reconstruction.
In fact, nothing else was said about tendons at all until the very morning of the surgery when the doctor came by to see Julia right about the time she was getting ready to have her initial dose of “happy” meds.
“Looks like you are nearly ready to do this thing. We’ll get those new tendons grafted on in no time, and…”
“Wait!” Julia interrupted. “What do you mean ‘graft on new tendons?’ Where are you getting them?”
The doctor paused and looked at Julia for several long seconds before answering, “Well, we have these tendon grafts that we will put in your knee. They will soon attach to the other muscles and ligaments and bones, so that your knee will be properly supported. It’s really pretty simple and before long you’ll have a brand-new knee.”
“But where are you getting these grafts?” Julia persisted.
“I ordered them from a medical supply company,” he answered with a smile. And with that, Julia’s wise doctor quickly moved on to discussing her care after surgery.
I thought that would be the end of the discussion.
Within two hours of coming out of surgery, Julia was not only awake, but also asking questions. “Mom, where are my old tendons? Did he take them out of my body? And I still don’t know where the new ones came from.” Thankfully, she was still in a rather groggy state, so it was easy to distract her.
But soon the anesthesia wore off. As Julia’s mind grew more alert, she continued to pepper me with questions about her tendons, both the new ones and the old ones. The more time passed by, the more intense her questioning became. My tactic of being vague wasn’t working as well, and yet I couldn’t imagine telling Julia the entire truth either.
After we got home from the hospital, I told Jon my fears of her reaction if she ever discovered exactly where those new tendons came from. “She might well cry for hours once she finds out! ” I fretted.
Jon reassured me. “Eventually, she will stop asking questions and life will move on. Until then, it’s okay to give her vague answers. I don’t think you should tell her lies, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to lay out the full truth about exactly where those tendons came from until you think she is ready to handle that information.”
I felt only slightly comforted at my husband’s words. The pressure continue to build. I knew my daughter well enough to know that as soon as she could, she would ask me about her new tendons again … and again and again.
Not very many hours passed until my prediction came true. As the rest of the family left for church and other Wednesday night activities, Julia was left alone with me. The door had barely shut behind the last person when the questions started.
“So mom … did I trade tendons with someone?”
I smiled (sort of a weak smile) and said, “You are really curious about your new tendons.”
“I guess. I just want to know about them.”
“Well, Julia … trading with someone wasn’t an option. The doctor said your tendons were in bad shape. They were stretched out and floppy. He even described them as being frayed. No one can use a tendon like that.”
“Yeah … I see your point. I figured that wasn’t right. But where did they come from? Tell me … please … come on. I mean, they had to come from somewhere. You just can’t make a tendon out of plastic.”
“You are right about that. Tendons aren’t made from plastic.”
“So, did the doctor take my tendons out of someone’s leg who had an amputation?”
There was a long pause as I waited, unsure of what to say next.
Then, almost as if talking to herself, Julia continued. “No, that wouldn’t make sense. If their leg was amputated, then probably their tendons would be in bad shape too … maybe even in worse shape than my leg.”
Again, there was another long pause. I looked down, unable to watch Julia’s face for fear of giving something away. I could tell her mind was racing and whirring with ideas. Part of me was fearful she would figure out the answer, and yet I was fascinated to see how she worked through various ideas logically.
“Or maybe they took my new tendons out of a dead person … WAIT … that’s it, isn’t it? I must have dead person tendons! Oh, my gosh! I think I have figured it out! Mom, tell me! Am I right? Do I really have dead person tendons?”
I glanced up, still not able to really speak. But that’s all it took for Julia to know with 100% certainty that she had stumbled upon the truth.
“Oh, I am right! I figured it out all by myself! Just think … I have dead body parts inside of me. That means … oh … oh … wait, this is almost too weird to think about, but you know what that means, Mom? It means I am both dead and alive at the same time! Now that’s crazy!”
I watched as her shock turned to giggles and finally to full-blown laughter. This child wasn’t upset about having cadaver tendons; she was delighted about it!
It wasn’t long before her siblings came home, and Julia wasted no time letting them in on her amazing news.
“Nathan! Come here! I gotta tell you something you will never guess! Get this … I am DEAD on the inside! No … really, it’s true. The surgeon put dead person tendon’s in my legs, so while I am alive on the outside, part of me is dead too! Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?! It’s the weirdest thing to think that I have some random dead person’s tendons!”
Actually, that wasn’t the weirdest thing.
The weirdest thing was the next question my daughter asked …
“Hey mom … do you think you can find out the name of the dead person who gave me my tendons? I mean, if we found out, then I could go to their grave to say thank you. It’s the least I can do.”
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Julia isn’t the only one who is dead, and yet also alive.
You see, I am also dead in my sins, yet my spirit is alive in Christ. Let me explain …
Over in the New Testament of the Bible, there is a verse that says the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
But actually, you can find that lesson right at the very beginning of the Bible … smack in the middle of the Garden of Eden, right about the time when Adam and Eve first sinned and brought forth a world filled with all sorts of woes.
Before sin, Eden was perfect. Not only was it a beautiful paradise, but there was no death, no animosity between creatures, no heartaches or sorrows or sickness. Life was perfect for Adam and Eve.
Perhaps best of all, there was but just one rule for them to keep:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” ~Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)
But read Genesis chapter 3 and you discover that Adam and Eve didn’t obey God’s one simple rule. They allowed themselves to be tempted by the snake. The snake asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Eve, who knew the truth, answered back that they indeed could eat freely from any tree in the Garden except for one. And she added, “God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it or you will die.'”
And the snake … oh that cunning snake … he replied, “No! You will not die. In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Pride. It’s the downfall of nearly every human on this planet. We think that we know as much or better than God Himself. We get ourselves into all sorts of trouble because we refuse to do what God has shown us is right, believing our own way to be better than His.
So Eve, wanting to be like God, ate the fruit. And death entered the world.
Or did it?
When I was a child, I used to think, “But Adam and Eve didn’t die! They just got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and God made them some clothes to wear. The snake was right. They didn’t die!”
But they did die … eventually. And that’s the thing my childish brain didn’t grasp. The truth is that had Adam and Eve never sinned, then they would have never ever died physically. They would have lived right there in that garden paradise forever.
But they did sin, and death entered the world on that awful day.
In fact, even though the physical death didn’t come in that moment to Adam and Eve, the world’s first death actually did happen on that day. God Himself killed animals in order to make clothes for Adam and Eve. In this way, the very first death was also an act of love.
Yet all of it happened because of the sin of human pride and willful disobedience.
The root of all sin is found in the very words of the serpent. “You will be like God!” And right there is the core of it all … we humans think we should be like God.
The Bible tells us this can never be. We are unable to be like God.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9)
God is God and we are not. How simple it sounds! Yet it is incredibly hard to lay down our arrogance and pride. We want more than anything to do things our way, to believe that our finite minds comprehend things better than God.
But the truth is, we have very little ability to keep ourselves from sinning, no matter how hard we might try. Have you tried not telling a lie? Not judging someone else? Not listening to gossip? Just as Adam and Eve managed to sin when there was only just one rule, we are prone to sinning too.
Unfortunately, all sin comes with a cost … death.
Remember Romans 8:10? For the wages of sin is death.
One sin. Not multiple sins repeated over and over. Not a lifetime of sinning. Not when your sins outweigh the good things you did during your life.
No, the Bible is clear. Sin (singular) brings about death. And not just physical death, but also a spiritual death.
God, who is holy and righteous and perfect, cannot be in the presence of sin. So, if you are a sinner (raise your hand here), then you are doomed to be separated from God eternally.
But God is not only a God of justice. He is also full of mercy.
Think back on Genesis and the Garden of Eden. Imagine those moments just after Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Emotions they didn’t know immediately flood their souls … recognition of their nakedness, shame, fear of God finding out, trying to find a way out of their current situation, the sting of failure. None of these emotions had ever been felt in the perfect world of Eden before sin.
The Bible tells us that God finds Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes. He talks to them and they confess what they have done. God would have been completely right had he killed them on the spot. After all, He told them that eating the fruit would cause them to die.
Instead God clothes them.
Love. Mercy. Compassion. It’s all there in that one moment.
The Bible tells us something else about God. He never changes. Ever. (Don’t believe me? Read Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8, and James 1:17.) If God never changes, then just as He had love, mercy, and compassion for Adam and Eve, so He does for us.
Adam and Eve still had many consequences as a result of their sinful disobedience. There was a price to pay, as well as an eventual physical death that they should have never had to experience. But they also got to experience God’s mercy.
The good news is that there is still mercy for us today.
God doesn’t want any of us to die and be separated from Him and His love for eternity. So He sent His son Jesus to live a perfect life (in an imperfect world) without sinning a single time. And then Jesus took the punishment for our sins … and though he died on the cross, Jesus was not defeated by death. He conquered it by rising from the dead. And because of that, all we have to do is surrender our pride and our hearts to Him. To admit our sin and our need for a perfect God. To lay down doing things our way (because we think our way is better), and live instead doing things God’s way.
And then, even though we all will eventually die physically, our souls will spend eternity in the presence of God. In other words, even though our bodies are dying day by day, our soul is full of the life found in the Holy Spirit of God.
So just like Julia said … I might be dead in my sins, but I am alive in Christ Jesus!
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. ~Romans 8:10 (ESV)
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My daughter Julia had some really bad knees, but thankfully she was able to get a new set of tendons that came from a cadaver donor. At the end of her recovery, she’ll have knees that work better than ever. That’s a wonderful gift, and we are so grateful!
I don’t need new tendons in my knees. Chances are, you don’t either. But every single one of us is dead on the inside, trapped in our sins, desperately in need of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The good news is that God is waiting to give you this amazing gift … and trust me,
It’s the best gift you could ever receive!