Once upon a time (isn't that the way all love stories start?). . . .
Actually, this love story starts with a bad story. The story of a lady who worked for years as a nurse. Back before the precautions now undertaken routinely, this lady nursed the sick and the dying. And from one of her very ill patients, this lady caught hepatitis C.
Of course, this nurse had access to very good medical care, and she received good care. But the hepatitis C didn't go away. Over time, the disease did irreparable damage to her liver. The damage was gradual, though, so the nurse continued to live as full a life as possible. Eventually she was placed on the list for a liver transplant, but her ranking was not high. Her liver still worked well enough that other patients always ranked higher.
Finally her liver function became so bad that she was a higher candidate for transplant. Many years had gone by, though, so by this time her age knocked her back down the transplant list. She was not old, but she was past the age of being a prime transplant candidate. Finally, her physicians predicted that she had only 18 more months to live. It was obvious that she would not reach the top of the transplant list before her liver reached the end of its functionality.
So her family began seeking a living donor for her. The liver is a marvelously designed organ. Amazingly, it can regenerate itself. Half a healthy liver can grow into a whole liver. The patient's family hoped that one of them would be able to share a liver with her. What a great gift to share life with a beloved sister or mother!
But no one matched. None of the family members was able to share. And time marched on.
Finally, the family decided to open the search. They put forth the need and invited anyone who might be interested to inquire about becoming a living donor. The eighteen months of life were dwindling, and a transplant was the only hope.
This is the point at which I learned about the patient. Because the patient is a friend of one of my best friends, Sonya. And this is the point at which Sonya told me that she was being evaluated as a possible liver donor.
Now, Sonya is one of the busiest people I know. She serves in campus ministry. She serves on the board of a Christian school. She has three children of her own, one of whom just had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago. Her only daughter is about to graduate from high school. She has a lot on her plate: surely no one would expect her to consider becoming a living organ donor. Of course not.
And no one expected it, but Sonya felt compelled to offer. After she passed the initial round of evaluations, she felt compelled to consider it further. And after she was determined to be an ideal candidate, she felt compelled to go forward.
So today Sonya is in Chicago, waiting and praying with the family of her beloved friend. Tomorrow morning, Sonya will be the first of two people to be placed under anesthesia. Tomorrow she will undergo surgery to have half her liver removed. Tomorrow her friend will undergo surgery to have her own diseased liver replaced with half of Sonya's healthy liver. If all goes well, Sonya will spend this busy springtime recovering from the pain of abdominal surgery and then recovering from the fatigue of losing half her liver. It will be a hard road.
But because of Sonya's sacrifice, her friend will have a chance at life.
That's a love story. Somehow, in the midst of the Valentine's Day hoopla, it's easy for me to think of love as something that I should be receiving. It's much too easy for me to think that I deserve flowers or chocolates or jewelry. It's easy for me to forget that real love is all about giving.
But Sonya's story reminds me of the greatest of all love stories. It's an echo of the story of Jesus--not a story that Jesus told, but one that Jesus lived. Jesus told his friends, "Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). And then he demonstrated that love by doing that very thing.
That love lives in Sonya's heart. That love is what compels her to give. That love is wrapped in gauze, not in fancy pink paper. But that love is real. That love is worth celebrating.
Happy Valentine's Day, my friend.