"Love ... always hopes ... always endures." 1 Corinthians 13:7
"It's over," the phone call came from Miskolc to Debrecen in a torrent of emotion.
"Marko died this morning," the sms on my phone read.
The doctors had said they had done all they could do for seven-year-
old Marko back in the Spring. And at that time we all braced ourselves for the end, not expecting him to reach his eighth birthday. But the end did not come.
And in those months that followed something remarkable happened. It was not the miracle we hoped and prayed for -- that Marko would be healed. But perhaps it was equally magical and mystical.
It was a miracle that transformed an American football coach and his Hungarian girlfriend from mere volunteers at an orphanage into true "angels of mercy" or perhaps more significantly the loving parents of a rejected, sick and dying child.
It was a cross few of us would choose to take up. But it was the one put before Philip and Laura and neither hesitated for a moment. In fact, they likely would not have called it a "cross that they must bear" at all. It was a labor of love.
Each day they visited Marko at his hospital bedside, bringing odds and ends to make his situation a little more bearable. Loving him. Praying over him. Laughing with him on his better days and aching with him on his harder days. Celebrating the moments when he showed improvement. Always hoping that against the odds, that somehow, someway, this little boy's story could turn out differently than his diagnosis predicted.
They became Marko's parents in earnest, as if he were their very flesh and blood right through that critical moment when Marko slipped from Philip's big football player arms into the all-encompassing arms of his heavenly father. And because of Philip and Laura's love for him, he was prepared to understand the love of the heaven he entered.
Now Philip and Laura's arms are empty and their hearts bear the same void carried by all parents who have ever lost a child -- a scar that, as I understand it, may fade in intensity but never fully heals.
Although they would not call it such, they are true heroes of the faith.
But there are no heroes without sacrifice. And there is no sacrifice without suffering. And unlike most parents who suffer such a loss, this suffering was not thrust upon them. They chose to take it up willingly when they vested their hearts into the waning life of a precious, orphaned child. They made that choice because they believed Marko was worth it.
Although our ache is not as intimate as Philip and Laura's, we do ache with them. And we stand inspired and awed at their demonstration of holy love, God's love, in the face of a difficult situation -- in the face of such a significant loss. But the loss is not as significant as the gain:
Marko may have lived as an orphan, but thanks to Philip and Laura, he died as a well-loved son.