Thankful for Community and a New Set of Lungs

My first memory of Dan Gerdes is seeing him receive a breathing treatment at my friend Tia’s house when we were in elementary school.  At the time, I didn’t know anything about the machine that rattled his rib cage to clear the mucus from his lungs from Cystic Fibrosis.  I remember wondering why and being impressed with how all of this didn’t seem to bother him.
Fast forward to today, and one of the things that draws my radar more than anything is gratitude, so when I recently saw the thanks pouring out from the now 27-year-old Dan online and the love pouring out from the small-town, Johnson community where I grew up, I wanted to learn more about the source of all this gratitude.
“For me it’s always been this way,” Dan told me in a phone call earlier this week when I recalled my early memory of the treatment machine.  “I’ve never known life without it.  I was diagnosed at three months old, so I’ve always had to have treatments.  My mom would even have to pat my back when I was a baby to help with my lungs.  But for most of my younger life, I was really healthy.  I ran around and played sports.  I didn’t have trouble until the end of high school when I had to quit playing sports.  Then through college my health started to deteriorate really rapidly.  It was hard to breathe.  They put me on oxygen.  One day the doctor recommended me to get evaluated for a lung transplant just in case my health would deteriorate.”
On August 4th Dan was put on the transplant list, and just a few short days later on August 9th he received a 54 second phone call that would change his life.
“I had been selling chickens and ducks for eggs for a farmer’s market.  I was stepping in my car to make an egg delivery when I got a call from the Med Center.  I didn’t think it was anything special, but it was my transplant coordinator, and she was like, ‘Do you want a new pair of lungs?’  And I was like, ‘Yeah I’ll take them.’  I actually delivered those eggs on the way and then went up to Omaha.  I guess I made a promise, and I had to.”
Dan got the call at 11:43 that morning, and after making his promised delivery, he was through preparations and in the operating room by 9 p.m.
Today he is breathing easier as he recovers from his double lung transplant.  While the road following the surgery hasn’t been easy, he is on the way to feeling much better.
“I didn’t realize what I was missing until I had it.  The disease progressed so gradually.  The cliché is to slowly boil a frog in a pot of hot water.  That’s kind of how the disease progressed.  It was hard to realize step by step how I was progressing until I got new lungs.  It was just so much better,” he said. 
Even twenty years ago Dan would not have had this chance as transplant science has developed rapidly.  Danny is thankful for the medicine and people who have brought this opportunity and brightened his outlook.
“This disease is pretty frustrating.  When I was younger, I just wanted to be normal; I wanted to hide it.  As I got older, it was frustrating that I didn’t get to progress.  Kids my age are having families and kids, and they’re progressing in their careers.  And I am just kind of stuck because my health wasn’t good enough to do all that.  But now I guess I’ve learned how to be calm about challenges and push through them.”
When asked what he wants people to know about him and CF, Dan is quick to answer. 
“More than anything I would just really push people to be organ donors.  You can really change somebody’s life.  Even my body, even though it has CF– I’m still an organ donor.  There are still some of my organs that could save somebody’s life.” 
Dan’s willingness to not only be a recipient, but also a donor of his organs is evidence that he is experiencing a deep sense of gratitude.
“My gratitude list obviously includes my donor, and also my family and community.  The community has been so supportive.  It’s made it really easy to keep fighting to get healthy again,” he said.
In addition to the well wishes he has already received, Dan needs financial help.  It turns out that lung transplants aren’t cheap.  Danny’s cousin Tia and her mom Annette are organizing a fundraiser event this weekend.  Dan has teamed with the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), a 501c3 charity, so 100% of funds raised are used for transplant-related expenses.  Dan’s goal is to raise $50,000  
Tia’s experience in organizing the event has filled her with gratitude as well.
“Dan has overcome so much in his young life, much more than the typical person.  Living with a disease like Cystic Fibrosis—the respiratory therapy, the digestive enzymes, special diet, etc.—would be enough to overwhelm anyone.  Let alone living with a disease that has no cure. . . I had no idea the outreach of love, prayers, and support we (as a family) have received.  SO many have shown their concern for Dan and want to help him in so many different ways,” she said. 
The shredded pork and silent auction fundraiser is from 5-7 p.m. this Saturday, October 8 at the Johnson-Brock school cafeteria on 310 Main Street in Johnson, Nebraska.  After the silent auction ends at 6:30, an auction for a gun and quilt will be held.  The nearly 50 items for raffle can be viewed on the event’s Facebook page, Fundraiser for Dan Gerdes.  If you are unable to attend and would like to contribute, you can mail a donation or access the online donation page at 

THANK YOU for reading.  If you could use some more gratitude and grace in your life, join other gratitude gals (and guys) in receiving 3-4 posts per month using the box below.  Thanks! – Evi

Why Your Gratitude List isn’t Working

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought;
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”  -G.K. Chesterton

I gathered the shirt arm holes up like a panty-hose leg one at a time, left arm then right.  My two-year-old’s blonde tuft of hair popped through the shirt’s red circular neck hole.  He looked down at his chest and then up at me, his face gleaming.  The Spider Man on his new hand-me-down pajamas had him buzzing, electric.

Like a dart, he spun away from me and shot fake spider webs, “Pew, pew, pew, pew,” he said with each wrist thrust.

My four-year-old daughter and I couldn’t quit grinning; this was cute stuff.

“Mama,” she said elbowing me, “I want Supergirl pajamas.”

Turning away from our little spider web shooter, we went to the one place guaranteed to help us hold onto this joy and give us lasting peace and happiness,

We scrolled through pink and red, white and blue options, each one cuter than the next, but we were stumped again and again with sizes too small for my growing girl.

“How about this,” I said placing the phone down on the colorful bed quilt, “I’ll check tomorrow at Target and see if they have your size.”

“Okay,” she said looking disappointed but hopeful.

The next day I found myself in the Target girl’s section, turning hangers like pages of a book.

My Little Pony. . . No.  Dora the Explorer. . . No.  After the pajama rack came up empty, my eye caught the corner of a shiny-silver “S” in the shirt section.  Its soft gray arms were covered with stars, the perfect Supergirl shirt for C, just right.

As I checked out, the cashier in red said, “Find everything?”

“Yes,” I said, with growing excitement for the trip home.

After parking my car in our garage at home, I removed the tags and curled-up the shirt into an off-white roll-up, thinking unfurling would only add to the surprise.
I found C on my bed, playing a game.  After quietly setting the surprise beside her, she looked up at me with can’t-wait eyes, and set her game aside.  Holding her gift up, her shoulders instantly slumped down, her bottom lip darted out, and her soft whimper snowballed into an all-out hyena cry with aching moans between.
“I WANTED PAJAMAS!” she roared after gasping breaths and angry stares, “WHERE ARE THE PANTS?”
I sat there.  Split in two as my thoughts scolded me, “What were you thinking?” and then scolded her, “How can she be so ungrateful?”

But sometimes our thoughts are dual and wrong from both ends, and the third way is the only way as the only thing left to do is do nothing.  So I rubbed her back, kissed her head, and headed out of the room to wait out the storm.

My husband’s eyes raised as I walked into the living room, our daughter’s cries blaring in the background.  He headed in to talk to her.  
Minutes later, she trudged out of the room ahead of him and begrudgingly spit out the words with her eyes glued to the floor, “Thank you, mama.”

And in that moment I am and am not grateful.  Sometimes we bring our offering, our best efforts to the world, and the results aren’t results as much as they are a mess.  I heard a speaker say recently that if we lean hard into our deep-seated beliefs, they often give way.  And while that has been true for many things, others don’t shift no matter how hard I lean and kick and punch into them.

One of these is gratitude.

But the problem is that sometimes it doesn’t “work” right away.  It’s a slow burn, one that rewards “a long obedience in the same direction” (in the words of Eugene Person).  The reason why our gratitude doesn’t always work is that sometimes it is working upstream.  It is taking its time working on us, training us to see things that weren’t there before.  Sometimes we’re too busy seeing how what we’ve got today isn’t pajamas, so we’re blinded to the shirt that’s actually pretty cool right in front of us.

On the evening of the Supergirl shirt crying-pocalypse, I announced the time for teeth brushing to my two kiddos, and my daughter asked with clear eyes, “Can I wear that new shirt tonight?”
I gathered the arms holes up like a leg of pantyhose, pushing her arms through one at a time, left than right.  Her blonde tuft of hair emerged through the gray circular collar, and she looked up at me together in love, electric.
After a quick glimpse in the mirror, fingering the plastic-y silver “S” corner, she brushed past me, threw her left arm into the air with her right elbow bent and raised.  She flew into the living room, exclaiming the whole way, “Dun da da DA. . . Super girl!”
It doesn’t make sense how our pains can turn inside out, if we’re patient.  If we try gratitude and then try again, it comes around reminding us that we aren’t in control, in the best way.  It reminds us that all things contain everything somehow.  An entire tree lives inside a little, plain, brown seed.  What if instead of crying at it’s small, sure lack of potential, we watered it, waiting in thanks, hoping to see what might grow?  We might find ourselves sitting in the shade, soaring like a superhero waiting with anticipation to unfurl what’s next.

Today’s Thanks:
Fall chill in the air, a turn to something new
Morning coffee on the deck with friends
New brightly-colored Sticky notes
Pork chops grilled to salty perfection by my amazing bearded hubby
Carol Dwek’s empowering growth-mindset word, “yet”
Parenthood on Netflix, #allthefeels
Your turn. . . 

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