15 July, 2009

Christmas Sermon - A True Story

I don't remember many sermons from my childhood. I remember snippets and stories, and only a handful of those.

This is one of the stories I remember; unlike most of the stories, I remember this one clearly. (1)

It was coming up on Christmas and our church was sponsoring one of those "share with others" Christmas ministries. Families were encouraged to provide presents and food for less-fortunate families in town.

One of the families participating - the Overtons - had two young daughters. They bought some presents (which the girls helped to pick out), some food and, on Christmas Eve, headed to their assigned family. On the way, the parents went to great lengths to explain what they were doing and why: They would be giving presents, but not getting any in exchange. Mom and Dad Overton were worried about how their girls would respond to this change in the normal Christmas-time ritual of exchange. (I give you a present, you give me a present... or three.)

The families met, the presents and food were given and everyone stood on the porch exchanging small talk and seasonal pleasantries. The recipient family also had a little girl, about the age of the oldest(2) Overton daughter, Paige. She stood on the porch in the cold with no coat.

As the adults chatted on, Paige asked her new friend why she didn't wear her coat.

"I don't have one."

Paige looks at her own coat - a brand new Christmas present, just opened - very pretty and very warm. Perfect for wearing to the Christmas Eve service.

"Ahh," thinks young Paige, "I know how this works! Mom and Dad just explained this!"

Off comes the coat and Paige hands it over. The adults now see what is happening. The parents of the little girl object. Mom and Dad Overton try to object (delicately, of course - this is an awkward(3) situation...). But Paige shall not be moved. This is Christmas: We give presents to people on Christmas, especially if we have a bit more to share. Neither parental logic nor goading can dissuade her. This is what we do.

So the little girl got a new coat for Christmas.

"And," said the preacher, relating this story to the congregation, "to think: Mom and Dad had worried that the girls might not understand why they were doing this. I think Paige understands Christmas very well."

Good story, no? I preach it semi-regularly.

Fast forward a few decades, to 2009. A friend of mine named Mark is dealing with renal failure, thanks to an adverse response to medication. Kidney transplant is the only real option, long-term.

Lots of Mark's friends rally to offer support. One starts a Facebook page and other cyber-ways of getting information out. Maybe, just maybe, she thinks, someone in Mark's circle of friends... who knows? Maybe something semi-miraculous.

This friend, having started the Facebook page, decides to go in "just to see" if she might be a match as a living donor. Well, gee-golly-what-do-you-know? She is a match. (In retrospect, she could have saved herself the trouble of starting the Facebook page had she checked this out first.... but, I digress.)

They're scheduled for surgery July 22. Next week.

Mark, it just so happens, is the son of Fred, the preacher who told the story about the little girl who gave the coat off of her back.

And Mrs. Kidney Donor?


A little girl asks a friend why she isn't wearing her coat. The friend says, "I don't have one." The little girl thinks, "Ahh. I know how this works!"

A few decades later, a grown woman asks her friend, "Why aren't you using your own kidneys?" Mark says, "They're broke." Looking at her own two good kidneys, she thinks, "Ahh. I know how this works!"

God is good.

much peace, much love, etc.

Post Script - I like sharing stories like this, but I was hesitant to share this one, for fear of making Paige out to be some sort of cartoon superhero. She's not. She's a wife and a mom; she has her issues, like everyone else; and, for God's sake, she's an Aggie, which means she may fully be expecting her kidney to re-grow. She's not all that different from anyone else, except for the whole about-to-be-down-to-one-kidney thing.

I think we (the human beings "We") make superheroes out of folks who do extraordinary things to make ourselves safe. "I could never give a kidney to someone, I'm not a superhero like Paige. I'm just a regular person. Leave the extraordinary stuff to the superheroes."

I think we ought to give thanks for Paige's wonderful graciousness. (Personally, I've elevated her to the rarified status of "badass" in my book.) But she's doing something we could all do. Maybe the best way to celebrate Paige's and Mark's story is to also do something extraordinary. God knows, we need more ordinary people doing extraordinary things in this world.

(1) I do remember this story clearly, which is not to say that the people involved in it will recall it in exactly the same way. This could lead to a protracted discussion of Pastoral Hyperbole and Memory, but I'll save that for another time. I'm sure your breath is bated.

(2) Or is it "eldest?" Darn you, English!

(3) I am amused that the word "awkward" has the letter combination W-K-W, which may be amongst the most awkward letter combinations possible.

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon, Paige and Mark are both out of surgery, the doctors were encouraged and said that they couldn't have been a better match if they were siblings. And, they had to remove a rib to get to Paige's kidney, so her little sister is making plans to take it home and give it to the dog...