Swilling, 78, spent almost a year walking hundreds of miles around South Carolina with a sandwich board sign that read, "Need Kidney 4 Wife," according to news reports. His efforts finally paid off when a donor came forward.
Swilling's wife of 55 years, Jimmie Sue, was born with only one kidney and it began failing last year. When tests showed Swilling and his three children all had the wrong blood type to be donors, Swilling hit the streets.
Jimmie Sue, 76 and on a transplant list, could have waited years for the right organ to come along. He husband was not willing to play the waiting game. He did what we could; he hit the streets with his sign.
Swilling walked the main thoroughfares in and around his hometown of Anderson, S.C., toting his sign with one thought in mind, "We're just hoping every day, every minute, we get the call to head to Charleston for a transplant."
In heat, in cold, in rain, Swilling walked with the sign that stated his very specific need along with his phone number. As media coverage drew attention to his wife's plight, calls started coming in from all over the world.
Some people offered money, Swilling said, but the couple turned down monetary offers. "I just want my kidney," Swilling told CNN several months ago. "That's going to save my wife."
The Medical University of South Carolina has informed the Swillings of a viable, willing donor. If all goes well, Jimmie Sue could receive the new kidney -- and a new lease on life -- Sept. 12.
Among lessons to glean from Swilling's story is the fact that love is a commitment, not a feeling. This husband was committed to the point of doing whatever he could to help the woman he calls "my heart."
"I knew it was going to happen because I know him," Jimmie Sue recently told Fox Carolina. "He wouldn't have stopped until he got me one."
When marriages break up for almost any reason, many times for seemingly no reason, it is encouraging to see a couple totally and completely committed to one another.
It is not only the longevity but the intensity of the Swillings' marriage that is impressive. "I love her more now than, I believe, when I married her, because we're not two; we're one," Swilling told CNN. "We need each other, and we've been together so long."
It is Swilling's commitment of love, not the fleeting feeling some call love, that drove him to don a sandwich board sign and walk, and walk, and walk, day after day in the hope that someone would see his message and respond. That is love, committed love.
Swilling's love for his wife caused him to ignore what anybody might think about his actions. I am sure there were people who thought his quest was foolish or futile, but he was not swayed. He just faithfully walked whenever able.
With over 119,000 candidates on the transplant waiting list at any given time, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, what were the odds that a man walking around with a sign would find a suitable donor?
What people thought or how great the odds were against him mattered not. Swilling's commitment motivated him to do what he could for his ailing wife. "Till death do us part" was not just a poetic and perfunctory part of a wedding ceremony; to Swilling they were words of ironclad commitment.
Aside from the lesson that real love is a commitment and not some fleeting feeling, a secondary lesson is also evident. The choice of self-reliance is more hopeful than self-pity.
When it became evident that Jimmie Sue's kidney was beginning to fail, Swilling and his bride could have stewed in self-pity. They could have lamented their plight and resigned themselves to the unlikelihood of receiving a kidney.
Instead of self-pity, Swilling chose self-reliance. There were not many things he could do to address the situation he faced. Rather than focus on what he could not do, Swilling dedicated himself to what he could do. He could construct a simple sandwich board sign that succinctly communicated his need. He could walk along thoroughfares in his city in public view. He could hope his message would be seen and yield results.
Swilling refused to quit. He kindled hope. He persisted. He could not do much to change his wife's situation, but he did what he could. He made a sign. He walked and refused to give up.
Yes, in a day when commitments are like pie crusts, easily made and easily broken, and the path of least resistance well worn, a man like Larry Swilling stands out. He has simply and poignantly given us a living picture of true love and self-reliance.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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