Life

What Does It Mean To Be Brave?

When I’m tired, don’t feel like it, feel defeated or like a failure and don’t want to go on, BRAVE means showin’ up anyway.

After 8 years of being on dialysis, I received a life saving kidney from my sister, Ali. That was almost 10 years ago.

After that first transplant, I felt like I was 20 again. I was ready to get back to adventuring, skiing fast down icy mountains, and diving into the lakes and rivers I grew up by! And for the last ten years I did many of those things. I finished my college degree, sang in a band, danced, and got back into riding horses! I felt so alive!

I also had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind, ‘when will the other shoe drop?’ I tried so hard to block that thought, but it felt like kidney rejection was lurking around every corner of my mind. That feeling of dread brought with it other fears of not being good enough, and owing the world my saved life! So when I found out, May of 2018, that I was rejecting this precious gift from Ali, I was heart broken and scared. I thought my negative thoughts had caused the rejection.

I remember I had a plane ticket to fly out for my niece’s high school graduation in Idaho. I balled my eyes out when I called and told my family I wasn’t gonna make it and why. I felt so much shame, guilt and heart ache. For the next several months, I battled depression and full-on, mid-life crises! Sheesh! I just couldn’t get over that I was loosing the gift my sister had given me.

Have you ever been so mad at yourself that you start making mental lists of everything you’ve ever done wrong as evidence against yourself?

If you’re like me and make this a regular practice, all I gots ta say is, You’re not alone! Welcome to the club of self sabotage!

Like playing pin the tail on the donkey, this torture game became my daily activity, except it was pin the guilt on Lacey.

You might be thinking, why would I be feeling guilty? It wasn’t my fault I was going into rejection. Try telling that to my ego! She makes me feel guilty if I look at someone funny in line at the grocery store while I’m thinking about how bad I gotta pee! Basically, if anything happens to me, it doesn’t matter what it is, I’m the responsible one.

The pain of loosing this gift, the guilt, and the fear of having to go through all the misery of being sick again, caused me to look at my own mortality. I wrote letters to my family members and husband and privately tucked them in my journal for “that day” when my body would finally give out. Even if someone offered me another kidney, I made the decision I wouldn’t accept it. Instead, I had decided that I would face my inevitablity of living on dialysis the rest of my shortened life.

I know, that part might sound bonkers and really negative. Why would someone not want to live if given another chance? Well, in truth, it was partly bonkers! You see, toxins and fluid were building up in my blood stream and I wasn’t thinking straight. Additionally, I felt like I had been given enough chances to live a great life and I wasn’t about to use yet another one.

Ok, let’s rewind for a minute… at 16 month of age, I was in a freak accident that caused a severe spinal cord injury and therefor paralysis from my waist down. I quite literally grew up with a disability, and along the way, my family taught me to be gutsy and to adapt quickly. Thinking back, I suppose it was perfectly ‘normal’ for me to aspire to become a ski racer and eventually go on to compete in two Paralympic Games! No biggie, right?! Haha, it was actually a big deal, but more on that later.

Over the years, there were many times when my life seemed to be held in a balancing act between life and death. However, it also seemed like I often got lucky and had opportunities to do things that I never dreamed possible.

You see, I have laid in hospital beds for months on end amongst other children whose parents never came and visited them; their wounds being so severe that they would never walk again, and even worse, they were likely destined for a life filled with physical pain and agony. Then there was me. Sure, my family had its dysfunctions (what family doesn’t), but at least they were always there for me, and that, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t in that much physical pain meant that there was still a life to live ahead of me.

Yet, with all of that youthful optimism, here I was, pushing 40, looking back at my life, and deciding that I had had enough of the good fight. It wasn’t in the cards to continue onward. I wasn’t gonna show up for this life anymore. Instead, I was going to hide from those who loved me and the whole damn world; slowly fading away. That was my plan!

Meanwhile, my little sister, Bree, called enthusiastically declared that she was give me her kidney. She had had a dream about it, and had prayed about it for several days. She was ready to do it!

I replied, “I’m sorry, I just can’t accept it,” and in one fell swoop, I had doused her vision and selfless gift with a cold shower of rejection. I continued, “I’ve taken enough from life, okay!” I could hear the pain in her voice as we hung up.

Weeks passed, and I broke down to one of my other sisters, Sundy (I have four!). I told her what I was going through. I told her my plans for giving up; that I had fought long and hard, had experienced a great life, and that it was time for me to let go so that others may have. We both cried over the phone that day. Then Sundy, who just so happens to be a counselor, sprung into action and gave me a great big verbal butt whippin’! She told me I’m in ‘lack mode’ thinking that there aren’t enough miracles to go around; a ridiculous notion! God, The Universe, or whatever it is, wasn’t gonna punish me cause I managed to loose my kidney, so why should I?! Then she sandwiched the whippin’ with incredible compassion telling me, “Lace, if you really wanna give up that’s ok. I love you no matter what. You’ve been through A LOT and it’s understandable if you’re tired and just don’t want to go on. Why don’t ya just sit with it for awhile and ask yourself this question: What would it take to accept another kidney? To accept your life? Then call me back and let me know what you decide.” Well, I did think on it, and with that giant dose of sisterly love and perspective, I was pulled straight out of my funk!

I started thinking about what I needed to accept, and I also realized that there was a whole heap of things that I had actually never really forgiven myself for. I took a long hard look at my self and hated what I saw! All the great friends I’d pushed away by being aloof. Lost opportunities to share my music because I wouldn’t speak up for myself or ask for help. The constant dread I lived with that I would never be enough to be loved or cared for, and all the times I made excuses for not showing up and taking responsibility for my own words, actions, beliefs or even someone else that really needed me.

I knew that I had to accept myself just as I am... the good, bad and dark circles under your eyes, if I was going to really LIVE again. Now, I mean, I’d love to claim that I have unlocked the key to self love. Wouldn’t that be the miracle hot dish! Say hello to world peace! In reality, it’s actually a constant and conscious effort I must lovingly address and work towards every day; perhaps without end.

It’s a journey, and being ‘brave’ means showin’ up in front of that mirror on a daily basis, accepting what I see, and being committed to taking forward action despite the feelings or current perceptions I hold. I also realized, that if I was gonna ‘keep on keeping’ on,’ I needed to do more with my life than to receive. I wanted to be of service and spread the love! It was gonna be my time to give back!

But first, I also desperately needed to talk to my sister, Ali, about the rejection of her kidney and gift from my first transplant 9 years prior. Making that call was very difficult and painful. I knew it wasn’t literally my fault her kidney had failed, but it still hurt deeply that she had given so selflessly, and had gone through great risk to help me, only to have somehow let her and her incredible organ donation down. She had heard that I was in rejection, but I had been avoiding the conversation. Well, the call was finally made, and the very moment I heard her voice, I became a fountain of tears. “I’m so sorry I’m loosing your kidney, Ali,” as I snorted, snotted and spilled tears onto my phone. “It’s not my kidney, silly. It was a gift! It’s okay, Lace,” said Ali. “I just want you to get another kidney and get well so we can dance again together!” More tears flowed.

I may have thought I could give up, but my tenacious and loving family makes that pretty darn hard! What can I say... I’m totally addicted to them like that irresistible white cheddar popcorn! Good-ness, now I know I have a Brave family when they keep showin’ up for me even when I’m a jerk, don’t call, or and reject their gifts of life!

A month later I called Bree. I told her I might be ready to accept her gift of a kidney. In her pretend southern accident, she said, “Lacey, I need to know right away! I got things to do and places to go! We need to get this thing done like pronto so we can get on with makin’ those memories! So shit or get off the pot already!” I laughed through the tears and told her “Okay. Let’s do this!” She gave a “YeeeHaw!!!” And we got busy makin’ plans.

In April of this year, Bree and I showed up for our kidney transplant! Bree gave me a miracle; another chance to live an extraordinary life, be with the ones I love, and share it all with you!

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Brene Brown, in her book, Daring Greatly.

Maybe there are times when, like me, you feel like giving up too. And perhaps you need a friend to tell you you’re not alone. I’ve been there too. It’s okay. I love you. I’m here for you. I know it’s tiring, and at times, feels downright impossible, but just think on it a little longer, won’t you, and give it a go. There’s enough to go around for you too!

Thanks for being brave, my sweet friend. Here you are! Thank you for showin’ up today!

With my whole & big wild heart,

Lace

Bree (left) and I, five days after transplant, staying at Gift of Life Transplant House, Rochester, MN.

Bree (left) and I, five days after transplant, staying at Gift of Life Transplant House, Rochester, MN.