I never saw a heartbeat inside a chest before, until one day, I did.

This wasn’t something I set out to do; I’m not a surgeon nor do I work in the medical field. In fact, unless there’s a problem, I don’t pay much attention to the beat of my own heart. I trust in the sustaining power; the life flows through my veins without thinking about its pulsating rhythm.

That said, there have been other times, other reasons that remind me of the fluttering within my chest.

Snuggling close with one of my kids.

A magnificent sunset.

The day my husband asked me to marry him, even when I knew he would ask.

Standing before the ocean listening to the waves crash one after another.

Maybe it’s that mimicking of a heartbeat in the waves that stirs such wonder in me, or perhaps it’s the wonder that shifts my gaze to the Maker. But seeing a heartbeat inside someone’s chest? I hadn’t considered what that might stir within my soul, the awe it would inspire.

Gifting A New Heart

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Exodus 36:26).

In 2013, I left a decade of vocational ministry to try a different kind of care—I worked for an organ procurement organization talking with families about the possibility of organ donation.

Yes, I was the one who walked into a hospital room shortly after a family was told there was no hope for their beloved father or mother, their sister, their brother.

Their child.

I know a bit about organ donation. I’m a donor mom. In 2005, my daughter died from injuries sustained from smoke inhalation. Moments after she was declared brain dead, a lady from Gift of Hope stepped into my life and asked me to consider offering hope for another family.

Life birthed from death. Through that decision, my precious girl saved five lives once breath no longer filled her lungs.

Then, in 2013, it was my turn to ask the question of another parent. 

He was 18 years old, this young man whose heart I watched beat. He was healthy and whole until one day, he wasn’t. Just like another did for me, I stepped into every parent’s worst nightmare and offered a chance to stare death in the eye and declare—you will not win!

The conversation, though filled with sorrow, carried glimmers of hope. I remember his dad’s words: “my son doesn’t need any of this anymore. I know it can not only help someone else; his organs can save lives.”

Experiencing Life From Death

Though I’m called a Christian—I believe in Jesus, the Lord of Lord, King of Kings, and Savior of the world—the topic of faith never came up with this family. I’m not sure if they knew Jesus personally or not.

But at that moment, I knew they recognized something—some thing that spanned across time and life and death. Some thing that filled their own hearts to believe life could be birthed from death.

How could they, not believing in Jesus, say something that described the gospel itself? 

Life from death!

In his thick  book Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Wayne Grudem defines common grace as “the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not a part of salvation.”

Scripture says it this way: “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9, New International Version).

What has he made? The first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells us that he made everything. The heavens and earth. The sun, the moon, the stars. The creatures of the sea and those that roam the earth. And God made people.

He looked at all He made and, after creating it, he said that it was very good.

We could go into a theological discussion about sin and death and the reality that because of sin, what we really deserve from God is death, destruction, and definitely not anything good.

And yet . . . we receive life. He sustains us (Colossians 1:17) not because of anything we do or deserve but simply because God is good (1 Chronicles 16:34).

We experience beauty. Think of the last time your heart swelled as you gazed at a delicate flower or stood before a mountain range or stared into the eyes of someone you love.

Grace. Undeserved blessing.

We experience hope. Hope that is available in our darkest days, even when our lips don’t yet proclaim God’s goodness. Like this family who, even though they walked in the valley of death, chose to offer life to someone else. 

Awe and Wonder

The wonder and awe of God’s grace were never more evident than when I stood in the operating room watching surgeons and hospital staff do their job. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to what I saw and heard and smelled.

The moment came when the surgical nurse invited me to stand closer so I could watch. I inched as close as I could without getting in the way, and there it lay, red and pulsating with the gift of life.

His beating heart.

This young man’s heart would be carefully and skillfully removed from his body and, just hours later, placed in another’s body to bring life and breath.

My own heart swelled in awe and wonder—how was that possible? How could one heart that was created and grown in one body be transplanted in another to sustain life?

Only by a God who breathes life from death. Only by a God who illuminates hope in the darkness. Only a God who lavishes his love on his creation because he is the source of love (1 John 4:7-8).

I stood there watching this heartbeat as mine fell in line with his, offering praise and glory and honor to the one who sends rain on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45); who doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to have eternal life (2 Peter 3:9); who loves us so much that even while we were enemies of God, he sent his Son to offer his life in exchange for ours (Romans 5:8).

The words of the Mark Altrogge song “I Stand in Awe of You” came to mind, playing over and over as it fell into rhythm with the beating of my heart.

I stand, I stand in awe of you
I stand, I stand in awe of you
Holy God, to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you.

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