The Gift of Receiving, One Woman’s Journey from Certain Death to Life

Have you ever received a gift that changed your life? I mean a real long-term life-changer. Not a car—they eventually stop running. Not cash—it eventually runs out. Not a vacation—they always come to an end.

I find that it’s harder to be a gift receiver than it is to be a gift-giver. Maybe that’s because our culture values giving much more than receiving.  Even Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The Act of Giving

I believe that behind every gift is a motive.

That may sound cynical, but the motive may be to bring joy, or to answer a need, or maybe to reward an accomplishment. Giving can also be done simply out of habit or social pressure–birthday parties, weddings, and Christmas come to mind. These gifts are appreciated in the moment but are often forgotten shortly after the wrappings are thrown away. 

At worst, giving can be manipulative. A gift to the boss could be a subtle bribe for special consideration for an upcoming raise or promotion—a kind of unspoken quid pro quo: “I gave to you, now you give to me.”

But there’s another kind of giving that is so rare, and costly, and valuable, that it changes a life and a future. This kind of gift comes only from the heart.

In the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel, King David wanted to buy a piece of land on which to build an altar to God. The owner of the land was so honored that he offered it to David for free, but  the King declined saying, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not give to the Lord, … that which costs me nothing.” King David understood that a gift that costs the giver nothing is often worth nothing to the receiver.

Have you ever received a gift so valuable that it changed your life?

My Life-Saving Gift

I know something about receiving this kind of gift.

Seventeen years ago, I was in a life-and-death situation. I had leukemia. Early on my doctor had suggested a bone marrow transplant, but I rejected that option, believing that God could just as easily cure me through chemo as He could through a bone marrow transplant. My decision was a confident “No.”

Eighteen months later, after two six-month regimens of industrial-strength chemo, followed by two relapses, I was rapidly losing my battle with leukemia. Now, it was no longer a suggestion—my doctor insisted I get a bone marrow transplant.

It’s surprising how quickly when confronted with the sobering alternative, my confident “No” became a humble, “Yes, please!”

And while there were no guarantees that I would survive the transplant process, my husband and I prepared to leave Albuquerque to go to the City of Hope for 3-4 months for a bone marrow transplant.

The City of Hope is a stellar research facility and hospital just north of Los Angeles, but to tell you the truth, the only thing that sounded worse to me than fighting leukemia in Albuquerque was fighting leukemia in Los Angeles.

But Who Would Be the Giver?

Even with the decision made, there was another critical component still missing: A perfect DNA-match bone marrow donor. When my brother was not a match, a search began through the Red Cross and the National Bone Marrow Registry.

Everyone seemed hopeful that a donor would be found, but I privately wondered why someone would agree to go through the inconvenience and discomfort of going to the hospital and having bone marrow extracted from his or her hip to give to a total stranger. 

How would they know if I was a nice person or someone who nagged her husband or kicked her dog?  It seemed like something only my family or Jesus would do.

When the call came telling me that a perfect match had been found. I felt like I could breathe again. All I was told about the donor was that he was a thirty-eight-year-old man. His name was Darren.

The donor process at this point is very anonymous and a bit mysterious. Maybe that’s because if the donor met the recipient in advance, he might find out that she nagged her husband or kicked the dog, and he would decide it wasn’t worth the trouble. But after a year, if both parties want to meet, they are given contact information.

I knew I wanted to meet this man. I wondered about this man who was walking around with my very same DNA and was going to do this thing that could save my life.

On Our Way to Bone Marrow Transplant Land

The night before we left for LA, our kids and their families came over. At evening’s end, we said our goodbyes with only a little more emotion than if we were leaving for an extended vacation. But I’ll tell you, I was impressing in my heart and mind every detail. I wanted to always remember that when my daughter, Cara, hugged me, she had that new-mom smell of soapy sweetness laced with a hint of baby spit-up. And when Marc leaned over to kiss me, he buried his head in my neck for just a moment.

The next morning when we backed out of the driveway to leave for L.A. was as much an out-of-body experience as I’ve ever had. I silently wondered if I’d ever drive back in.

Still, on the day we arrived at COH, we were in good spirits, cracking jokes about going to Bone Marrow Transplant Land to ride the marrow gauge railroad.

And the rose-lined entrance to the main building that culminated in a large fountain with a golden statue of a man and woman holding a baby above their heads looked more like a resort than a hospital. 

Across the street was a stone ledge bearing the motto for this institution: THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE. I was glad to see we were on the same page because I was counting pretty heavily on hope.

But after just a few days in the hospital, the rosy theme park comparison was long gone.

What is a Bone Marrow Transplant?

Most people don’t understand what happens with a bone marrow transplant. The actual transplant process is a piece of cake. The nurse hangs the bag of the donor’s bone marrow or stem cells on the IV pole, and it quietly drips into the bloodstream over the course of a few hours.

Nothing to it.

It’s the chemo and radiation beforehand that do the number on you because the objective is to kill off every last cancer cell and every bit of your own bone marrow so the new marrow will engraft into your bones and begin to make healthy cancer-free, cancer-fighting blood.

Things got tough at this point, and I relied pretty heavily on drugs to get through it. If you ask me, drugs aren’t all their cracked up to be. Even in high school when friends were smoking marijuana, I was sitting it out on the sidelines, probably drinking something I was not legally old enough to drink. Although the drugs I took in the hospital could not be called recreational, they made the process bearable, if a little surreal.

I wanted to be aware of the exact moment when I received the transplant. We had expected it to arrive on June 1st, but for some reason it was late. I pictured a little Ziploc bag sitting on the airplane cinched in the middle with a seat belt–and yeah, that was probably the drugs.

Receiving New Life in an IV Bag

Finally, at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of June 2nd, the nurse brought in a bag of yellowish fluid and hung it on the IV stand. 

As weak as I was, I now played a critical role in the success or failure of this process—I had to receive the bone marrow. If I had suddenly decided I didn’t want some stranger’s bone marrow, it could have hung there all night, and with the promise of life at my fingertips, I would have died.

I was a pretty sick puppy, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew a good deal when I saw it. I received that gift of bone marrow, gratefully, eagerly, and hopefully.

It was a very serene process—holy, really—the way I believe God regards the beginning of all life. I think I prayed fairly coherently: Thank You, Lord. Thank you, mysterious donor.

But I still wasn’t out of the woods.

It took weeks for the new marrow to begin engrafting into my bones. It was a scary and tough time. Engraftment is a rambling, dicey process because the body sometimes sees it as an enemy, attacks it, and the transplant fails. Many people lose their battle right here.

After a few weeks, the new marrow engrafted into my bones and slowly began to produce healthy blood that would bring me back to health and life.

Receiving the New Life of Faith

My only comparable experience to receiving a bone marrow transplant was when I came to faith in God.

It too was a challenging trek.

Following a traditional religious upbringing, I was left with a general belief in God and Jesus. But it seemed to me that God was mad and Jesus was sad.

So, I set out on a rambling journey looking for something more. I tried on philosophies and ideologies like I was shopping for hiking boots. I wanted something sturdy that would get me over the rocks, through the valleys and the muck of life, and take me someplace high and wide where I could see where I was and where I was going.

I dozed through transcendental meditation, orbited astrology, squirmed through hours of the trendy “est” seminars, and tried self-help. All were lacking.

My brother called me one day. He’d been involved with Campus Crusade for Christ: “They never told us about grace! It’s all about grace. And Jesus.”

I was curious but wary. I knew I didn’t want a bunch of rules I couldn’t keep, or a constantly disappointed God. But I started reading. About grace. About love. And about this Jesus.

I wondered, who is this God/Man who died on a cross? And how could His death thousands of years ago mean something to me today? I’m just an ordinary person, why would He even care—much less die for me?

I wanted to believe. I wanted the hope of heaven. And I sensed the open door and the compelling offer of eternal life.

I can’t tell you how, but He met me right where I was. I prayed and asked Him to forgive me, be my Guide, my Savior, and my God. Far from being weak and sad, I found that Jesus to be right here, vigilant, strong, true. He’s not an idea, or a philosophy, or a  trend. He committed to His followers by giving no less than His perfect blood—His perfect life for our broken, sinful lives.

Like Darren’s gift of bone marrow, I knew a deal when I saw it. I received Christ’s gift of eternal life humbly, joyfully, gratefully. Then, I set about on the lifelong journey of allowing the Lord and His word to engraft and take up residence in every nook and cranny of my heart and my life.

Meeting My Donor

A  year to the day after my transplant, the phone rang: “Hello?”    

“Hello, Laura. This is Darren.”

Brief pause. “THE Darren?”

Six weeks later, Craig and I stood at the airport meeting Darren and his wife, Lisa, for the first time.

I had no idea what to expect. Would he look like me? Would we both like Mexican food? Would we have similar personalities?  As they approached us, I noted that he didn’t look a bit like me, but after a very short time, Craig and I felt like we somehow knew this guy.

The next morning, we went to breakfast (he did like Mexican food) where we learned Darren’s story. 

A few years earlier, Darren had lost his young first wife to cancer leaving him with 3 little girls under the age of 10. When it became clear that she was dying, the family went on a trip to Disneyworld through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Once there, Darren was confronted with the contradiction of being in the “happiest place in the world” with his little girls while his wife lay in the hotel room under the constant care of a nurse.

Two days after returning home, Darren and his daughters faced the unimaginable sadness of losing his wife and their mother.

At this point, our breakfast burritos were soggy with tears. He told us about his first wife’s need for the blood donations that sustained her through her battle. Then, when his workplace offered the opportunity to register as a bone marrow donor, I suspect he was first in line.  

A Gift from the Heart

Out of that very place where Darren’s heart had been broken with the death of his wife, was born the rare gift of love that saved my life. A gift from the heart.

Laura Sowers with her “perfect match” bone marrow donor, Darren.

As much as I love and appreciate Darren’s gift of life. Here is the truth: I am still going to die.

And so are we all.

On that day, we will not be able to stand before God and be received into His kingdom on our own merit. We are not capable of making ourselves righteous enough to meet God’s standards. God knew that, so our heavenly Father made a way for us. It was a gift of great cost. His love for us was so immense that He provided His only Son as our divine Donor. Jesus gave His life and His perfect blood so that we might live. John 3:16 says:

For God so loved the world that He gave

His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him

should not perish but have everlasting life.

Will You Receive this Gift?

So, picture this:

You are lying in bed. You’re dying. You are not dying from a medical condition. You’re dying from sin. You are sick with selfishness, unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred, pride, and unbelief. There’s no doctor or drug to save you. You are facing certain death, and eternal separation from all that is good.

In comes a Man in the whitest hospital scrubs you’ve ever seen. He looks at your tortured face with a tenderness that defines love and compassion. He’s the only One who knows what you need, and He’s the only one who has what you need. He offers it to you freely. His saving blood. No IV is required. You need to believe in His work done for you on the cross and receive the gift of his sinless sacrifice on your behalf. This gift will change your life now and forever. 

You need to believe in Him and receive this gift so that you will live. Forever. With the Lord.

When I received the bone marrow, a strange thing occurred that I still don’t fully understand. After the transplant, my blood type changed from my own O-positive to Darren’s A-Positive. The most fundamental fact of my physiology was altered.

This is what happens when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior. We are no longer our own. We are the Lord’s forevermore.

1 Cor. 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”

That price was the blood of His Son, Jesus.

Take it from this greedy receiver: When you understand the enormity of this gift, grab hold of it! Don’t mind your manners. If you haven’t already prayed to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Now is the time.

If you did that, you may not realize it, but your spiritual DNA just changed: You’re now part of the family of God.

Laura’s real education began after a few unfocused years at the University of New Mexico. 

When she became a Christian at the age of 29, Laura found her passion to write about her love of the Lord. Eventually, she authored two books published by Broadman and Holman. Twice Blessed, Strength and Hope for the Caregiving Season is currently available on Amazon Kindle. 

For years Laura worked as an editor and writer for Skip Heitzig, pastor of Calvary Chapel Albuquerque, and later for Skip’s wife, Lenya. She loved being behind the scenes, happily immersed in God’s Word. 

Now retired, Laura enjoys her husband of almost 50 years, her children, and her eight grandchildren. And then there’s Murphy, a three-year-old Shih Tzu who is a constant source of joy and laughter. Life is very good.

5 Responses

  1. Wow! I’ve never heard the whole story, that really is amazing! Thank you Darren for saving my Lala from physical death, and thank you Lord for saving all your elect people from eternal spiritual death!

  2. I loved reading this. As always Laura does such a great job and you are walking right there with her. When all of this was happening in The City O Hope Craig was doing a daily post to let everyone know what was going on. I wish someone had those posts because the should be published. Craig wrote a story himself. A great love story. They went through so much but look what they gained. Love you Laura

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *