“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). 

Don, Sheila, and Karolyn are part of the community group that meets in our house. But because she is ill, Sheila hasn’t been able to attend yet. At our inaugural meeting Don explained, “Sheila is waiting on a liver and kidney transplant so she couldn’t make it. She wanted to be here and hopes she can come soon.” Karolyn is Don’s mother who has just moved here from Providence, RI to help with Sheila’s daily in-home dialysis. “I so love my daughter-in-law,” Karolyn tells us, “but I had a wonderful church and so many friends back home. I pray that I can find new ones here.” Further comments made it very obvious that, as a true servant, she relished the privilege of ministering to her son’s wife. 

The story only gets richer. Don fills us in: “We were married about 5 years ago. It was in God’s perfect timing because Sheila got sick soon afterwards. And she needed me to be there for her during these years of hospital stays, treatments, and waiting to get on the donor list. And there were all the trips to the Mayo Clinic.” Karloyn moved south when it got to the point it was too much for Don to fully keep up with Sheila’s healthcare and work to support his family.

Sounds tragic, doesn’t it? But having now met all 3 of them I have never once detected any doubt, bitterness, or resentment. They speak of their circumstances knowing their God is sovereign, that this is an opportunity to love and minister to one another. Their God and their faith are so much bigger than their situation and, I must admit, I’m blown away by their sense of God’s goodness and their love of Him and family. 

This became even more evident when I recently saw Sheila for the first time. She had, once again, been admitted to the hospital; the place where all the workers knew her by name. Sheila laughingly called herself a “diva.” She chuckled when she told us that, “They all know me by now and I’m not shy about telling them when I want something better than the hospital food.” Rebekah and I had just left Don at church. He was working at the volunteer table after the service and was signing up folks for community groups. We had gotten to the hospital before he could warn Sheila of our arrival. No matter; she greeted us as if she had known us forever (and will do so forever). She talked about the journey, their journey, and then said the most amazing thing. “I so appreciate your prayers but also pray for the family that will have to make the difficult decision to give away the liver of their deceased loved one.” You know, I’d never thought about it but the liver donor is almost always a dead person. And Sheila already hurt for those who would give her hope for physical life due to the death of someone so close. 

Don came in while we were praying. He thanked us in his ever-gracious way. Sheila said we were lovely people and wished she could just put us in her pocket! Then Don interjected, “Another family signed up for our community group today after the service!” There was genuine rejoicing in his voice. The rejoicing of one who truly knows the joy and treasure found in Jesus. No sadness was to be found in either one of these Christ-followers but a resonating sense of peace and eternal hope. There was no hint of panic or self-pity. There was, however, a calm sense of being held in the palm of their loving God’s hand. They knew what is true for all those who put their trust in Jesus – we are always healed; either temporarily in this life or permanently in the life to come. 

Due to Super Bowl 45 our community group was cancelled for that evening. Earlier that morning we had been informed that one of our pastors and his wife were going to lose their unborn son 7 months into the pregnancy. While holding Sheila’s hand as she lay in a bed filled with wires and tubes, Don uttered something that so typified this family, words that stunned me. “I wish we could meet tonight just to pray for them.” His words were so genuine that I immediately thought, ‘this was what true faith in God looks like.’ And this is what happens to people radically transformed by the Master; they ooze with compassion and selflessness. Those who have surrendered and sold out to Him and His promises want to be like their Jesus. Life is no longer about them: life is about Him and others. Don and Sheila and Karolyn are people whose lives demonstrate that Jesus is exalted in them above all else, lives that are real examples of Paul’s message to the church at Philippi:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11).