I’m Thankful for … My Platelets? January 19 2019

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

One of the videos we came across during the holidays was of a husband and wife who woke up one morning, and to their astonishment, found that many things they already had in the house had been giftwrapped: the children, the breakfast, the shoes, the briefcase, the car, the coffee, and even themselves. They were so excited that the lights could turn on and off, the water flowed, and that they could take a hot shower.

The point of this little 2-minute video is that there are many, many things we take for granted in life that we should be thankful for - from big things to little ones - family, friends, the freedom to worship, running water, hot showers, clothes, the list is endless. And of course, we are never able to fully appreciate the gift of our salvation. The video by a church in North Carolina is well done and worth watching at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSxPWpLPN7A.

The challenging thing for us is that - let’s face it -  life is hard. Things don’t always go right. Cars break down, the plumbing leaks, finances are tight, jobs are insecure, family members get seriously ill, people have disagreements. The list of difficult things can sometimes seem as endless as the things to be thankful for, which is where the command of I Thessalonians 5:18 becomes especially challenging (“… in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”). But therein is also great hope, because by God’s grace, our lives don’t have to be controlled by circumstances or the difficult things of life.

Every now and then you come across a person who exudes gratitude, even in the face of great difficulty. One of my mother’s close friends was like that.  Mom worked at what was at the time the largest physical rehabilitation facility in Virginia. This is where many people came for rehabilitation from traffic accidents, diving accidents, physical disabilities, and debilitating illnesses. They were generally there because of what we would usually call “a tragedy,” humanly speaking. Aside from their medical recovery, after a time these individuals learned new skills in business - auto mechanics, appliance and furniture repair, barbering, and so on. My brother and I had many free haircuts from these rehab center students and without incident. They were amazing individuals, who took their education very seriously. We also had some fond memories of wheelchair races down their long corridors. It is here that I learned (still learning) to better appreciate the challenges faced by the disabled.

Mom worked in the business school, and her friend Mary Ann worked there as well. Mary Ann was one of the most joyful people you could ever meet. The thing is, Mary Ann was bound to a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, which back in the 50s and 60s could not be treated nearly as well as it can today. The daily routines of life were very challenging for Mary Ann, but she was always an example to me of one who could be thankful in the face of great difficulty.

So the video and Mary Ann got me to thinking about things I had taken for granted. There are actually many of those, but one that came to mind recently was, of all things, my platelets. I knew very little about platelets until I started donating them about once a month, beginning shortly after 9/11. Platelets are cells in our blood that form clots to help stop bleeding, and they are remarkable little creations of God in the body. In most people, platelets do their job to stop the bleeding and stay regulated at the right level - not too many, not too few. But platelet counts can drop to low levels for people with certain cancers or leukemia or for those who have suffered traumatic injuries or have chronic diseases.  Platelets also have a shelf-life of only a few days, so medical facilities need to constantly replenish supplies.

Doctors and hospitals apparently love my platelets, because I am also “CMV negative.” This means that I have never been infected with cytomegalovirus. They say that only about 15 percent of U.S. adults who have reached age 40 are CMV negative. Having platelets that are not exposed to this virus is important, because those with weakened or immature immune systems (like little babies) are susceptible to life-threatening CMV infection. So babies with cancers or leukemia would need to be given this special class of platelets. This possibly explains why I get called so often by the blood bank. On top of that, my sweet mom died from breast cancer, but her life was extended, in part, because of the platelet donations of others.

The blood bank where I donate has photos of various people who have received donations of blood products, and sometimes when I’m lying there squeezing the rubber ball for 90 minutes I think about where my platelets might be going, like to little babies with cancer whose families are struggling through the heartache of seeing them suffer. That is tough. And when we see families working through that difficulty with their ultimate hope and trust in the Lord, that is an inspiration to all of us. It also makes me thankful for a part of our amazing bodies that for many years I took for granted, or actually didn’t even know about.

One of the devotionals I read one morning a couple of years ago talked about “The Game of Thanks,” in which a group or family would start going around the circle naming as many things as they can think of that they are thankful for, both large and small. Basically, there are so many things, that you could virtually keep going forever. And it is a great little game for children. You will find that after they get through family members, the dog, the cat, and their toys, they have to start looking around the room to find things they never would have otherwise thought about being thankful for - a little bit like the video.

The book of Nehemiah records a dramatic scene of the exiles who had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and had completed building the wall. Nehemiah 8:8-10 records:

“They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

In other words, gratitude for what God has done brings strength to continue. It is amazing how dwelling on the blessings we sometimes take for granted can turn a temptation toward self-pity into a time of encouraging others and being encouraged. The joy of the Lord is, indeed, our strength. Lord, thank you for all the “Mary Anns” of the world and for things as obscure as platelets that remind us how we can live joyfully even in the most difficult of circumstances. By the way, if you are able to donate whole blood or platelets, check out your local blood bank. And thank you if you already have!

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Steve Smith