This Isn’t Real — Chantel Dennis

I was sitting in my office mid-morning when my husband, Jared, walked into the building. My first thought was, is he surprising me with lunch? But then I saw his face. Something wasn’t right. He walked into my office, shut the door, sat down, put his head in his hands and told me what he had just heard. He had just been laid off. His company went broke and laid off all of their employees on the same day with no warning.

“We’ll figure this out; you’ll get a new job; we’ll be fine” were the words out of my mouth. And we were. God took care of us and He provided a job for Jared even better than the one he had before. He had a plan for Jared; He had a plan for us.

Jared was offered a position for a wonderful company with amazing benefits; it fit his qualifications perfectly. But first, he had to pass a health screening. No big deal, he was 25 and perfectly healthy. So, to the doctor he went. He passed his physical and just needed to complete a blood test.

Several hours later, Jared walked into my office again. This time, I knew something was really, truly wrong. He was crying. As he began to speak, my heart sank and in that moment I knew everything was going to change. This isn’t real was the first thought that crossed my mind. He told me that the doctor had called him and told him something was wrong. His kidneys were barely working. In fact, they hadn’t been for quite some time and the doctors were amazed that he was even functioning as he was. They needed him to come back in for some more testing to determine if this was a fluke.

Of course, this was a mistake. Jared was an all-star athlete; he was in great physical shape; he was young and active and healthy! This wasn’t real. Hours later, the doctors called back again to confirm our worst fears. Jared’s kidneys were only functioning at 10 percent and he was in need of a kidney transplant or he would have to go on dialysis.

This wasn’t real. How could this be real? Where was God? Shouldn’t He have prevented this? Shouldn’t He have protected us from this? Why Jared? Why me? Why us? Questions I still don’t have the answer to and I know I never will. One thing I do know, however, is that God was protecting Jared. If Jared had not been laid off of his job, we would not have found out about his kidney failure until it was far worse. Looking back, I see God’s sovereignty in how and when He revealed this to us.

We prayed, we cried, we sought counsel, we asked for prayer, and in those first several months we felt very supported by our community. We felt prayed over and so many people got in line to see if they could be a match to donate a kidney to Jared. There were a few times when we got our hopes up that there was a match, only to be told that it didn’t work out. Many months went by and it looked like Jared would have to go on dialysis soon. But we were both leaning on each other and trusting that the Lord had a plan.

In the midst of this trial, God brought us some joyous news—we were expecting our first child. A son! The day we were taking our baby announcement photos, I got a phone call from UCLA hospital. They had been doing the testing on Jared and potential donors and they had found a match. The donor has chosen to remain anonymous to this day, however, I can say that it was one of the last people I would have expected. This person didn’t even tell us that he was getting tested; he was older, and his physique was so much smaller than my husband’s. But God had created this person’s kidney from the moment they were born, to be a match for Jared.

So many tears and prayers of rejoicing later, Jared received his kidney transplant. The donor recovered well and Jared’s kidney was immediately accepted. The doctors were so excited to tell me that as soon as they hooked the kidney up, it began producing urine immediately. This was a great sign of a healthy kidney and a great match! We left the hospital a week later and everything seemed well.

We welcomed our first son in October and enjoyed two full years of health! God granted us so many blessings in those two years. I look back on that time with fondness, rejoicing in His care over us, His love, and His providence. God was good and He had been good to us. We prayed for a miracle and He answered!

However, things didn’t stay that way for long. Jared began to get sick. It started with a lack of appetite, weight loss, a cough, and general lethargy. We had several weeks of wondering what was going on. We checked in with the doctors who thought he just had a cold. Jared was still functioning and working, and we even went to our friend’s house to help them move. We had just finished helping them move a couch and were about to eat lunch when I looked at Jared and he didn’t look well. He tried to speak, but his words came out jumbled and he passed out as I tried my best to catch him and lay him down. We went to the doctor later that day; they ran tests and told us they would call with the results.

The next day was Sunday. Jared was at work; I was at church when he called me. The doctors told him that his kidney had been rejected and he needed to check into the hospital immediately. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I just thought, “This isn’t real. This can’t be real. We are happy; he was healthy; he is so young! This has to be a mistake.” But it wasn’t and the next six weeks, spent in the hospital, would be the worst six weeks of my life. I saw my strong husband, my rock, my everything, suffer in a way I never thought I would have to. No one knew what was happening or how to reverse it.

There were a lot of maybes, some improvement, and then some backsliding. The worst news was that there was now less than a 1 percent chance that Jared would find another match and be able to receive a second transplant. The future looked bleak. In the midst of all of this, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. It didn’t seem possible to face this on my own. I was going back and forth between the hospital and home, trying to care for my one-year-old son, and be there with my husband. My heart was torn.

But God. He was with me every step of the way. Every drive to the hospital when I was crying out to Him to save my husband, every drive home when I was crying after watching him be poked and prodded and then having to leave him. And God was there every moment I spent with my son, when I was crying out to Him to save my husband so he could be a father to our children. There was no comfort like the one my God gave to me in those moments. A peace that surpassed all understanding. Knowing that in this moment God was perfecting me and my faith. He was going to use this for my good, and for my husband’s good. Even though it didn’t feel good. 

Jared was able to come home after six weeks, but he would need to do dialysis three days a week. It was a horrible adjustment for him, and absolutely heart-breaking to watch him suffer through the headaches and side effects of this treatment. Jared was strong through it all.

Three days a week, he would go to the hospital to get his treatment from 4:00–7:00 am, then he would turn around and go to work. He would come home utterly exhausted and barely had the ability to do anything other than rest. For me, this was one of the loneliest times in my life. It felt as if the people that had been supporting us in the beginning, suddenly, didn’t have much to say. It didn’t seem as if they understood what we were going through and most of the time, it didn’t seem that anyone cared to ask and find out.

Those two years were a complete blur and I now realize I was just functioning in survival mode during that time. I gave birth to our second son and found out we were pregnant with our daughter a year and a half later. They were good gifts, sweet additions to our family, but I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to handle one more thing on my plate. During that time, I needed to be both mom and dad to our boys and still care for my husband. It was difficult, and I was exhausted, but God was my constant—my companion and my friend in those dark days.

He was growing me. He began to develop in me a true compassion for others. I am sad to say that before this trial, I was a critical person. I didn’t have empathy for others and I lacked understanding of another’s perspective. But going through this has taught me that everyone is going through something, and to give grace. Even though these days were difficult, I look back with thankfulness at how God chose to perfect our faith in this way. I see his kindness in gifting us with three children who brought laughter and true joy even on our darkest days.

Our story doesn’t end there. Two years after being on dialysis, Jared received a phone call in the middle of the night from Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Someone currently on life support, who was an organ donor on the East Coast, was a match for Jared. It was a hard emotion to process. Grief for the family who was having to make a difficult decision and say goodbye to someone they loved, but at the same time, rejoicing that God had provided this second chance for Jared. The doctors had told us that there was less than a 1 percent chance that Jared would find a match.

But God.

We made it to Arizona the next day (with our two-month-old daughter) and Jared received his transplant. He was able to come home six weeks later and I have not taken one single day spent together as a family of five for granted. This trial has given me a thankfulness for life and for each moment with my husband. As I’m writing this, a year and a half later, there is always some worry about how long this current kidney is going to last. And that is something I will live with the rest of my life. But we are choosing to trust in the Lord and know that no matter what the circumstance, He will continue to provide.

Hopes & Helps

Scripture we clung to on the hardest days/nights:

Psalm 31; Psalm 91; Psalm 4:8; Psalm 139; Isaiah 26:3; Jeremiah 29:11

Helpful things people did to minister to us:

  • Watched our kids
  • Wrote notes
  • Provided meals
  • Visited in the hospital
  • Sent gifts
  • Continually reminded us that they were praying for us, and telling me (as the spouse) that they were praying for me.

What you should NOT say to someone in a similar circumstance:

  • Compare your trials to his or hers.
  • Say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Instead, just do something!
  • Make it about you.

Hymns or songs that comforted us:

  • Not for a Moment, Meredith Andrews
  • Thy Will, Hillary Scott

The hope Jesus has given us through our trial:

Every day is a gift and we shouldn’t take it for granted. He has given me a hope for the next life and a longing for heaven, where there will be no more tears or suffering, where we will have new bodies, and we can be with Him forever.

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