By David Dawson
FRANKLIN — It could be said that Thomas Bester is facing an uncertain future.
Bester, however, would disagree.
Even while dealing with many unknowns involving his health, Bester is standing firm in his faith. He said he knows how the story will end, even if he doesn’t know how the details will unfold.
Bester, who serves with Tennessee Baptist Mission Board as a black church development specialist, has been dealing with kidney issues for several years, and the situation recently worsened. He is currently on dialysis and is waiting to be placed on the list to receive a kidney transplant — a procedure that is likely needed in order to save his life.
And yet, despite this seemingly scary prospect, Bester said he takes comfort in knowing that the Lord has scripted the plans for him, both in this life and the next.
“I’m at peace with whatever the Lord wills,” said Bester. “I believe there are things that God has left for me to do — and I am excited about this season of my life. I really am.”
This is not to say that Bester hasn’t struggled at times to understand why he is having to undergo these trying circumstances.
But he said he has now arrived at a place where he is focusing exclusively on what he can do, and he is not wasting time wondering about the “what-ifs.”
“I am not worried any more,” he said, matter of factly. “I’m over the grief and the anger and all the emotions about what I’ve gone through. I’m happy. I’m in a place now where I realize God is still needing me in ministry and I am determined to do the things that He would have me do.”
Bester has been dealing with a bleeding ulcer for several years, and the condition causes internal bleeding. In recent years, it was discovered that Bester’s kidneys were beginning to show signs of weakening.
The situation came to a head roughly three months ago, he said, when he started having symptoms that alerted him that his bleeding ulcer was flaring up.
“I’ve learned the signs and I can recognize when this is happening — and I know what to do: I have to go to the emergency room,” said Bester.
“So, that’s what we did. We went to the emergency room.”
That night, which was a Sunday evening, while the doctors were treating Bester’s ulcer and internal bleeding, other complications arose.
“While we were there, my kidneys just kind of shut down on me,” he said. “I had to be put on emergency dialysis at the hospital. So, I started doing HD, which is where they hook you up to the machine for three or four hours at a time and run your blood through the filter.”
During Bester’s stay in the hospital, the medical staff began training him on how to do dialysis from home — a complicated process that requires being “on the machine” for about eight or nine hours each night.
“You have to follow a lot of different steps in order to ensure there are no infections, because that’s the biggest problem,” he said.
Bester has been on the home dialysis machine since late September, and said he is beginning to adapt to his “new normal.”
“It takes a little while for your body to adjust,” he said. “But I am feeling stronger now, doing better. I am on the machine about nine hours each night. And it’s actually not as bad as it sounds because you are asleep most of that time. … The good thing is, it gives you the freedom during the day to do the things you want to do.”
Bester is now at a crucial part of the journey.
He is hoping to soon be approved to be placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant from a living donor. He has been rejected by one potential facility already, but is hopeful about his other possibilities.
“Right now, I am trying to get on a transplant list, and I’m going through several tests for that,” he said. “I am meeting with my doctor soon to discuss my situation and to get my information out to various places (to be placed on the donor list). There are several places around the country — including Memphis and Little Rock, Ark., and I believe there is one in St. Louis — where I can apply.”
Bester is not a diabetic, but has a history of high blood pressure and has experienced several heart related issues through the years. The upcoming weeks and months will be a challenging time, he said.
“If I don’t get a living donor, then I will be on a dialysis machine, in some shape, form or fashion, for the rest of my days,” he said.
During this journey, Bester has formed a special bond with TBMB new church catalyst Gustavo Baez, who serves in the Knoxville area. Baez has gone through a kidney transplant himself, and has been a source of encouragement for Bester.
“When I found out (about my need for a transplant), I called Gustavo — and he has really been a blessing to me,” said Bester. “He prayed for me and gave me some good advice medically that I follow. So, it’s just been great having him in my life. I am always amazed at how God knows how to put someone in your life at just the right time.”
Bester said being on dialysis is something that he avoided as long as possible. But during his most recent episode, the doctors presented a grim list of options.
“It was really a choice of either go on dialysis or suffer through kidney failure and then go on to be with the Lord,” he said. “I’d been trying to avoid dialysis for eight or nine years. And then, all of sudden, just all in one night, everything changed and they were telling me, ‘man, your kidneys are gone, and you’ve got to do something’ because my numbers were so low.”
Still, the decision about dialysis wasn’t as clear-cut for Bester as it might seem. He said he needed some convincing. And he got it — from someone very close to him.
“I’ve always said that I never wanted to live my life being dependent on a machine,” he said. “And when I was faced with this possibility, I really struggled with it. But my wife convinced me that she wanted me to be around for a few more years.”
Now, Bester is moving forward, ready to face his future — a future where he knows the ultimate outcome.
Bester said he is uplifted daily by the prayers that are being sent up on his behalf.
“I’m at peace with it,” he said. “I am blessed that people are praying for me. Even some people I don’t really know, they are praying for me. And I mean, real prayer warriors, not just namby-pamby prayers. I’m talking people on their knees, praying for me. It’s such a blessing.”
Bester said his health problems have taught him several lessons, including one that keeps popping up again and again.
“I’ve got to love more,” he said. “The Lord just keeps reminding me of that. And that can be a difficult mirror to look in, because here you are thinking, knowing, you are saved and are a Christian, but realizing you need to love more.”
For now, Bester wants his story, and his life, to point people to Jesus and serve as an inspiration.
“If I can encourage someone else,” he said, “my living is not in vain.” B&R