SIX THINGS NEVER TO SAY TO GRIEVERS

Is there anyone you’ll be missing this Christmas? I know so many who have “lost” loved ones this year. A spouse of 55 years.  A  43-year-old father of two teenage girls. An 88-year-old amazing grandpa. A 22-year-old son killed on a motorcycle. A best man from a long ago wedding.  A 9-year-old little girl tearfully taken off a respirator.

How can we offer sympathy in the face of such sorrow? Let me start with what not to do.

SIX THINGS NEVER TO SAY TO GRIEVERS:

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

  1.  God must have needed him/her more than you do.
    God is self-sufficient and needs nothing. He is not made greater, stronger or better by anyone or anything. Yes, He loves our loved ones even more than we do, but He does not take them Home out of His own necessity.

2.   At least you have other children.
I remember when I miscarried our first baby at three months gestation on Mother’s Day of all days. A nurse came by my hospital room that night and commented: “You’re young—you’ll have other children.”

Her words did not comfort me. I didn’t want a “replacement” baby—I wanted the one I already loved. I needed to grieve the baby I would hold only in my heart and never in my arms.

And as devastating as a miscarriage can be, the death of a child is even more so.  A parent burying a son or daughter is so unnatural, I believe this is the deepest grief to bear. And having other children still alive does not diminish the loss. The less said by onlookers, the better.

3.    At least they lived a long life.

If this thought gives you comfort when your loved one passes, by all means say it to yourself, but it’s not a phrase to share with grievers. Simply because someone was 80, 90 or even 100 doesn’t mean it feels OK that they are no longer in this world. In fact, when a loved one has been in our life for a long time, it can feel really difficult not to see/call/take care of them each day.

My Mom passed away at the age of 82 after many health struggles and I mistakenly thought that because she had been in my life for six decades, I wouldn’t grieve as much. It has been eight years and I honestly still could cry every day.

Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

4.    You’re young—you’ll find someone else.

Even if this comes true, such a statement minimizes the special love relationship two people had. Those burying a spouse/life partner do not need to run out and find a new mate. They may indeed experience love again, but first need to grieve what they had and lost.

5.    I know just how you feel.

I remember when someone said this to me shortly after my 86-year-old father passed away. I wanted to shout: “Really…your dad died a few hours before your mom got home from a 2-week hospital stay for cancer surgery complications? So the day that was supposed to be your parents’ happy reunion became the date your brother had to drive three hours and break the news to your Mom? And meanwhile you hurriedly drove seven hours in a vain attempt to say goodbye to your dad? Really…you had all that happen to you, too?”

Every grief has it’s own uniqueness, including how it affects those left behind. So while you may have an inkling, you do not know exactly how someone feels.

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6.    I thought you’d be over this by now. 

People do not get over grief. They get through it. There is no universal timetable for grieving and grief work is not a linear progression. “Getting over it” is what we do when someone we’re dating breaks up with us, or we lose a job, or someone hurts our feelings. The idea of “getting over” our grief implies that we’re never going to miss that person or be sad again. It’s simply not true because when we love deeply, we grieve deeply.

In two weeks I’ll share “SIX THINGS ALWAYS TO SAY TO GRIEVERS.” In the meantime, here’s a prayer to lift to God for yourself or for those who mourn:

            Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless.
      Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
                                                                                 Psalm 10:17

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If you haven’t ever experienced a deep grief, I especially recommend listening to the song “I Will Not Say Goodbye” written by Danny Gokey, contemporary Christian artist–and former American Idol contestant– after the death of his 27-year-old wife.

Handling Life’s “Setbacks”

I don’t know about you,  but my life has been full of a lot of “setbacks” lately.

Our friends’ new home (before the landscaper arrived)!

For a couple of months we’ve been helping some very dear friends in Colorado purchase the house across the street from us. I’ll share more about this long-distance adventure in a later blog, but suffice it to say it has been a real roller coaster fraught with tons of setbacks. One minute the four of us were cheering and thanking God, and five minutes later (after another upsetting communication from the house’s previous owners), we were in tears and ready to forget the whole idea.

Now, I realize that in the whole scheme of life, my setbacks right now are fairly minor. But I have several good friends who are experiencing major setbacks–life-threatening health issues, painful difficulties with teenagers, unsettling hitches in important plans, and overwhelming problems with terrible anxiety. Each is facing a huge setback and trying to find hope and peace in the midst of it all.

I’m curious…what is your first reaction to setbacks in life?

Complaining? Obsessing? Blaming?

Depression? Avoidance?  Maybe anger?

“When we suffer a setback,” author/teacher/historian Chris Tiegreen* says, “our first instinct is usually to lament about it, analyze it, wonder what we did wrong, and try our hardest to get out of it.”

However, a “better instinct,” Tiegreen says, “is to ask God what He is doing in it and open our eyes to the opportunities it creates.”

Let me be the first to say that I don’t find this kind of response comes quickly and easily. But I do agree with Tiegreen’s assertion that “whatever situation we find ourselves in, there is some way to reflect God’s face.”

“Does it give us a platform to show God’s mercy? His power? His compassion, patience or love?” Tiegreen asks.

When our friends and we were dealing with the many setbacks in their home-buying process, we all prayed that God would shine through us.

Was it easy? No way. Did we still have to fight against the urge to get back at the wrongs done to us? Absolutely. But in the end, I’m so grateful that God’s Spirit empowered us to exhibit our heavenly Father’s patience, offer His compassion, and show His mercy (after all, the latter is undeserved for all of us).

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

“Train yourself to think differently about your hardships,” Tiegreen recommends. “See them as opportunities for God to manifest Hs character and His kingdom. Pray toward that end and step through the open doors.”

We can do this with assurance and trust in our faithful God because as Tiegreen concludes: “Everything that happens to you is under His hand–and somehow useful in yours….Our crises are usually His stage.”

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.
You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.
So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.
Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

–James 1:2-4 The Message paraphrase

Ask God to let your crises–your setbacks–be His stage to reveal Himself through you. It’s a prayer He longs to hear…and answer.

*Quotes are from The One-Year Heaven on Earth Devotional by Chris Tiegreen, my favorite devotional author. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
I hope you’re encouraged by this music video from Casting Crowns. God is the “God of all My Days”–especially the ones with setbacks.

Are you a Titus? Or do you need one?

I remember so well the first cancer support group meeting I attended at our community  hospital. It was the summer of 1990.

Fall 1990 reporting on a P. Buckley Moss art show

I was a 36-year-old reporter for a York, PA, newspaper and recently had interviewed Mary Flinner, the new group’s facilitator. When I showed up at a support group meeting a few weeks after my story was published, Mary naturally assumed I was visiting the group as a follow-up to my article.

“How sweet that you would come to our meeting,” she said with a big smile.

“Actually, I was diagnosed with colon cancer last month,” I told her as her jaw dropped.

It was an incredible irony.

I remember that I had to talk myself into attending that meeting because I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be with a bunch of cancer patients. As introductions were made around the table, I happened to be the most newly diagnosed and the last to introduce myself.

I burst into tears before I could even get out my name.

I felt really silly for falling apart like that, but I had been trying to hold it together in front of everyone else for so long that it seemed good to let down my feelings with others who had “been there, done that.”

Daytime Cancer Prayer Support meeting

Before I retired as a patient advocate, I constantly invited cancer patients and their caregivers to my support group meetings, but often people told me: “I’m not really that depressed that I need to come.”

To which I replied, “Great! I need people there who aren’t depressed to support those who are!”

 

What life difficulty are you facing or has God already brought you through? Divorce? Addiction? Cancer? Special needs parenting? Relatives with dementia? Abuse? Job loss? Infertility? Grief?

The list of life’s trials is endless…and so is the grace of God to see us through.

“God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.
When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Courtesy MorningbirdPhoto

Don’t waste the pain you’ve encountered by failing to share your experiences with others. The troubles you’ve faced with God’s strength will be a comfort to those facing the same kinds of circumstances.

When the Apostle Paul was down and out, God sent his friend Titus at just the right time to him.

“When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction,
with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.
But God, who encourages those who are discouraged,
encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy.”

2 Corinthians 7:5, 6

I think each day that you and I fit into one of two categories: someone who needs to be encouraged or someone who needs to be an encourager. Which are you today? If it’s the former, ask God to send a “Titus” your way and if it’s the latter, ask God to show you who might need you to step in and be their “Titus.”

 I pray that we each see one another–family, friends and even strangers–through the eyes of God.  As the beautiful Brandon Heath song below says“give me Your eyes for just one second.”

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Two Women (Make that Three) Defying the Odds

This is the story of two women God brought together more than two decades ago, forging a faith-filled friendship which has seen them through incredibly scary diagnoses.

L. to R. Chris, me, Jutta Sept. 2022

Chris’s ordeal began in July 1999 when at the age of 36 she suffered a grand mal seizure while sleeping.

“My husband thought I fell out of bed,” she recalls. “He was trying to get me up, but when he rolled me over I was turning blue.”

Hospital tests revealed a golf ball–sized tumor in the right front area of her brain. Chris remembers nothing of those events until she awoke from surgery and received the shocking diagnosis of anaplastic astrocytoma, which is not usually considered curable.

“I never knew what the odds were regarding survival,” says Chris. “No one ever told me that I only had a certain length of time left. If they had, I think I would have panicked.”

While still finishing radiation and chemo, Chris was befriended by a young mom named Jutta (YOU-tuh), who was leading the women’s Bible study Chris had joined.

“I had so many questions about God and all kinds of spiritual things ,” recalls Chris, who, along with her husband and 2-year-old son had recently begun attending Jutta’s church. “I always thought they were stupid so I didn’t bring them up [before], but Jutta didn’t seem to mind explaining things to me. And she would always give me a hug when I got there and when I left.”

A friendship was easily forged between the two, and Chris’s love for God grew alongside her love for Jutta. On the one-year anniversary of her brain surgery, Chris was baptized in a swimming pool with Jutta cheering her on.

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Then in July 2003, at the age of 38, Jutta also awoke from surgery to discover she had cancer.

Doctors initially thought her jaundice was due to a drug reaction, but instead discovered a malignant tumor in her pancreas. Up until that time, Jutta, a wife and mother of children ages 6 and 10, had never even considered the possibility that she might be seriously ill.

But the harsh reality was that she had one of the deadliest kinds of cancer and it already had spread to the lymph nodes.

“The day after surgery, the oncologist came up to my room and said, ‘You better get your act together. You have cancer and you’ve only got two years,’” Jutta recalls.

Hearing that she had such a difficult-to-treat cancer was shocking, but even worse, Jutta says, “was the way I was told.”

“It took me at least a month to get over that,” she adds. Eventually she decided the doctor’s prediction was only that—a prediction—and she would not live believing it had to come true.

“I always prayed that God would use me no matter what, but if I’d have known it would result in this, I wouldn’t have prayed that way,” she adds with a laugh.

Jutta, who still speaks with a rich German accent, believes setting goals is important for survivors.

“Even if my cancer would have been stage 4, I would still have gone for my goals,” she says. “One of my goals is that I want to be an encouragement to other people.”

“You don’t stop living just because you hear that word cancer–that’s the worst thing you can do,” Jutta says.

“I wouldn’t change anything about my journey,” Chris adds, ” because without it, I wouldn’t have met the wonderful friends that I have and I wouldn’t have a relationship with Jesus.”

Recently at a Cancer Prayer Support Group concert we all reconnected–three mothers diagnosed in our 30s, with the survival odds stacked against us.

It was a powerful reminder for us–and I hope for you–that statistics and predictions are no match for our God.

I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?
Jeremiah 32:27

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Please enjoy the music video “God of the Impossible” by Lincoln Brewster.

Five Cancers Can’t Stop their Joy

Bill and Pat Shifflet have faced five cancers in their 80+ years–some cured, others not–but please don’t feel sorry for them. The very happy couple doesn’t spend time bemoaning their own struggles; they’re too busy helping others.

“Everyday I pray ‘God, show me a need’,” explains, 82-year-old Pat, who loves to pray for people, send encouraging notes, and serve behind the scenes.

She describes her almost 84-year-old husband Bill, as an “avid giver.”

“If there’s a need,  he’s ready to open his wallet,” she adds.

The couple married in 1995–she, after an abusive marriage and he, after 55 years as a confirmed bachelor.

Pat was a non-practicing Catholic and Bill says he was “raised in faith” but his lifestyle did not show it. In 2000 he agreed to visit a  new congregation worshipping in a local movie theater only because he heard they had free coffee and a band.

“If they bring out any snakes, I’m leaving!” a skeptical Bill warned his wife.

No snakes appeared and the couple embarked on a spiritual journey of becoming committed Christ-followers.

It was that newfound faith which would strengthen them for what lay ahead.

A couple years earlier, Pat had encountered cancer via a malignant colon polyp. But her real trial came in 2005 with invasive breast cancer requiring a mastectomy, chemo and radiation.

Amazingly, my beautiful white-haired friend looks back happily on the whole ordeal.

“To me that was a blessing because that’s how I met Melissa and got to share Jesus with her,” Pat explains.

“Melissa was a nurse at the hospital and before my mastectomy she said ‘you must be frantic’,” Pat recalls. “‘Absolutely not; I gave it all to God,’ I told her. The next day she came into my room and said ‘When you’re well enough, can I go to church with you?'”

A few months later Pat helped baptize both Melissa and her boyfriend.

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Bill’s “turn” with cancer came in 2013–a fairly low-grade prostate tumor treated with “watchful waiting.” This year he was diagnosed with a spot of melanoma. But the toughest news came in 2018: incurable multiple myeloma.

“The MRI showed cracks in my spine and my ribs looked like Swiss cheese,”  Bill recalls. “The first year, I was a mess. Besides the terrible back pain, I lost 30 pounds and shrank 2.5 inches.”

After completing his initial chemo and radiation, Bill expects to remain on a bi-weekly “maintenance” drug for the rest of his life.

“It doesn’t bother me or make me worry,” he said. “I just try to put it in God’s hands.”

But he does admit disappointment over not being allowed to downhill ski anymore.

Skiing in Salida, CO

“I always wanted to ski until I was 80, but I made it to 78,” he says with a grin.

The couple spent 14 winters skiing in Colorado. Bill, an Air Force veteran and commercial pilot for 40 years was a lifelong downhill enthusiast. Pat came to love the sport in her 40s after a friend’s invitation to help at a winter Special Olympics in the nearby Pocono Mountains.

Pat volunteered despite the fact she had never put on a pair of skis! Eagerly, she watched the handsome instructor with a foreign accent patiently teaching the special needs kids. He invited her to stay after class for some personal instruction and Pat soon was flying through the soft powder. Only later did she learn that the handsome instructor was none other than champion French alpine ski racer, Jean-Claude Killy!

So while their skiing days are over, their serving days are not.

“Our lives are not defined by cancer; our lives are defined by our relationship with Christ,” Pat insists.

They offer rides to medical appointments for those in need, collect toiletries to be distributed at a local soup kitchen, volunteer at their no-snakes-church and regularly invite people out to lunch.

“God always provides, there’s always money,” Pat says with a smile. “We may have had bad times. God never promised us a rich life without cancer, but He did promise us eternity. We’re both ready to go and pray we go together.”

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Please enjoy the short music video “Press On” by Selah.

Contentment: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 9)

If you’re tired of hearing good news about people with little-to-no medical hope who are amazing doctors by how well they are doing, don’t even bother to read this.

Marc & Elizabeth Hirsh

Okay, because you’re still here, I could not be more happy–and thankful to God–to tell you that my oncologist and dear friend, Dr. Marc Hirsh, had another encouraging scan! This latest 6-month checkup at Hershey Medical comes almost 2.5 years after he was diagnosed with such a serious and rare cancer that he and every specialist consulted thought his death was imminent.

But the large tumor behind his heart has remained stable for the past two years.

“I’m really happy I got a good report–the tumor hasn’t grown and actually is a little smaller (about 5X3 cm instead of 6X4 cm),” Marc told me. “Now I can enjoy another ski season and have time for traveling.

“I’m delighted my short-term prognosis is excellent,” he added with his usual penchant for cautious optimism.

Contentment.

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That’s the word that Marc never actually used in our conversation, but I heard in his voice.

He’s a 71-year-old man  forced to close his successful three-decade-long oncology practice immediately after his diagnosis, and still living in the shadow of cancer…and yet he feels contentment.

“I’m enjoying my life quite a bit,” he said. “I know it (the cancer) may or may not come back, but I’m pretty much enjoying life a lot.”

“Life” includes another cross-country excursion out West this fall to visit older daughter Jessi and family, as well as regular trips to Maryland to help out younger daughter Sarah with her son and two little foster girls. And of course, plenty of physical activities like swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, jogging, and biking.

And music is still a huge part of Marc’s life. For the past 30  years, he has ministered in song at our Prayer Support Group concerts for area cancer patients, their caregivers, and those grieving someone lost to cancer. After Marc’s diagnosis in May 2020, I honestly thought there never would be another concert, but this past Sunday for the second time as a cancer survivor, he extended healing through his beautiful music and wise words. .

Marc, a Messianic Jew,  began by sharing his personal testimony through his original melody “Jesus Took Away My Blues” and ended with the words of the old song that always bring me to tears:  “And when I come to die, just give me Jesus.”

“Trouble is inevitable, (but) thank goodness we can have Jesus in our life,” he reminded the 65 folks in attendance.

Marc also shared from Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and salvation–so why should I be afraid?
The LORD is my fortress, protecting from danger, so why should I tremble?…
The one thing I ask of the LORD–the thing I seek the most–
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life…”

Before the concert Marc mentioned to me that he really liked the new oncologist he saw at Hershey.

“When I asked him if he had ever seen anyone with my diagnosis who was doing well, he said ‘no’,” Marc recalled. “But he added that nobody has ever had the same treatment (radiation, chemo and hormone injections) that I prescribed for myself.”

And then the new doc reminded Marc of something he knew but was encouraged to hear again: “Even in the worst cancer, there are long-term survivors.”

Marc, we are praying that’s what you will be.

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Please enjoy the very short music video of “Hope to Carry On” by Rich Mullins, Marc and Elizabeth’s favorite Christian artist.

My “Filthy Wealthy” Cousin

My husband’s Cousin Marge, born a premie in 1919, came with a doctor’s warning to her parents: “Don’t get too attached because she’s not going to survive.”

Marge 1920

For years Marge loved to tell that story, including the detail of spending her first few months sleeping in a shoebox. That precarious beginning seemed to set the stage for nearly nine decades of perseverance and at times downright feistiness.

When Marge graduated from high school in 1937, she ignored her father’s advice that “girls don’t need to go to college” and enrolled at Slippery Rock State College (which she lovingly called “Slimy Pebble”). In ’41 she became the first person in her family to earn a college degree–hers was in Physical Education, which led to a job with a YWCA and a long career with the Girl Scouts.

Always ready for an adventure–planned or not–about 2 AM on the night of her 65th birthday, Marge was jolted awake by blaring fire alarms. The blaze destroyed the Gettysburg Hotel connected to her third-floor apartment, but for Marge, the middle-of-the-night scramble down the metal fire escape was confirmation of her favorite phrase: “Everything has a story.”

Thanksgiving 1983

Marge was a consummate volunteer–delivering Meals on Wheels, feeding nursing home residents, working with a center for peace and justice, helping out at Toys for Tots, and doing just about everything except preach at her local church.

When our girls were born, Marge treated them like grandchildren (instead of 4th cousins!) and always orchestrated special outings and fun traditions because she believed “it’s important to make memories.”

In her later years before she passed away at the age of 88, we had the privilege of caring for Marge after dementia robbed her of most of those wonderful memories. We took care of her activities of daily living and/or hired others to assist in the apartment where we relocated her very close to us.

Marge 1938

After I had been handling her finances for a couple of years, Marge confessed to me one day: “I don’t remember writing any checks to pay my bills and I don’t know if I have any money.”

“All your bills are paid and you even have money left,” I assured her as I pulled out her checkbook from my purse.

Marge took one look at the balance of a few hundred dollars and exclaimed with a huge grin: “Well, I’m filthy wealthy!”

We had a good laugh and whenever she mentioned money again, I reminded her that she was “filthy wealthy.”

I’ve often pondered Marge’s contentment in life and have decided that Marge, indeed, was filthy wealthy.

I have concluded that I also am filthy wealthy.

And if you know Jesus, I believe, you are, too.

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:8 declared it was his privilege to share:

the good news about the immeasurable riches of Christ.

In Him we find peace, patience, provision, promises, power, purpose and so much more.

Riches…

Unlimited.
Unsearchable.
Unfathomable.

Infinite.
Incalculable.
Incomprehensible.

Plain and simple…His riches are more than enough for whatever we face.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches,
which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
 Philippians 4:19

So the next time you find yourself lacking–strength, money, love, hope, or you name it–remind yourself as I did my Cousin Marge: In Christ you are “filthy wealthy.”

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Don’t miss the 
beautiful music video “More Than Gold” by Judikay.

What are your plans?

“Hi, my name is Lynn, and I’m a compulsive planner.”

That’s how I would introduce myself if I found a support group for people like me who believe they simply must plan everything. (I basically have to plan to be spontaneous.)

Image by inspireus from Pixabay

I told my husband (a compulsive impromptu person) that I was thinking of blogging about planning. His reply with a slight eye-roll: “So you’re planning to write about planning?”

I feel badly for him living with a compulsive planner, but the handwriting was on the wall–literally–when we started dating in college and he saw my day was scheduled in 15-minute calendar increments.

God is a God of plans, but I know that His plans and mine are not always the same. And more importantly, I’ve learned that sometimes I need to ditch mine so I don’t miss out on His good gifts.

I’m so rarely spontaneous that when I do have a spontaneous thought, I’ve discovered it’s often God speaking. Like the day I was doing my brisk, 3-mile neighborhood walk and coming up the big hill where I always go straight on that route. But that day, I “felt” as if I should turn on to a little cul-de-sac that I normally take on a different route.

I hesitated, veered right, and shortly saw a woman who is part of the same, large church as we are.

I slowed slightly to say “hi” and inquire how she was.

“I’m recovering from cancer surgery” was her reply, which stopped me in my tracks–literally.

I listened to her story, prayed with her and later dropped off 50 Days of Hope. She was so appreciative and marveled that I “happened” to walk by just before she planned to go inside.

Had I stuck to my very logical walking plan, I would have missed a divine appointment.

I’ve had many similar moments when an unplanned idea pops up.

Like the time our daughter Bethany was playing junior high basketball at a school an hour away so we didn’t plan to attend. But while at work, the clear thought came to me: “Go to Bethany’s game.” We drove to the school and joyfully witnessed her sink the winning basket.  Afterwards a beaming  Bethany explained she told herself “I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength.”

Another day at work, I spontaneously thought we should drive to daughter Lindsey’s  fast-pitch softball game despite the distance and the cold spring day. Wrapped in winter coats, gloves, and blankets, we cheered like crazy as she struck out the side three innings in a row–her best pitching outing ever.

I’ve never heard God audibly, but many times I have sensed Him urging me to:

Pray for a certain person.
Send a card to a specific friend.
Do something difficult (like start a support group!)
Love someone who doesn’t “deserve” it.
Trust Him when it doesn’t make sense.

I can’t promise how you will “hear” God’s voice–it could be a Scripture verse, a friend’s wise counsel, or an impromptu idea–but I can promise He is speaking.

Listen carefully to what God the LORD is saying,
for he 
speaks peace to his faithful people. Psalm 85:8

Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or the left.
Isaiah 30:21

I’m planning to listen for God each day to direct my steps–literally and figuratively. Seems like a good plan for a compulsive planner. 🙂

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Enjoy this peaceful 2 1/2-minute music video, “Open Our Eyes” by Steffany Gretzinger.

Are you an “agent of blessing?”

My parents 1952

My mother grew up in the days when gentlemen drove and ladies rode, so she didn’t get behind the wheel of a car until well into her thirties. Fortunately, she loved to walk and I have happy memories of us walking, talking, and playing “Twenty Questions.”

I still love to walk. My jogging days are over, but nearly every day for more than two decades, I have hiked three miles.

Since we moved to a neighborhood with sidewalks seven years ago, my daily steps have been a great way to meet people.

“Are you going to talk to someone today?” my introvert husband asked as I tied my Hoka athletic shoes.

“I never know,” I replied with my extrovert smile.

 

But I do know that I’m praying to be an “agent of blessing.” 

That’s a term I read in a devotional by Chris Tiegreen based on Proverbs 11:11:

“By the blessing of the upright, the city is exalted.”

Here are some answers to my traveling prayer:

A bright, summer morning I saw a forlorn-looking boy sitting on his bicycle blocking the sidewalk. As I got closer, he moved to the grass.

“Thank you–that was really thoughtful of you!”  I told him. ” You are a kind young man. I hope you know God loves you very much. Never forget that!”

He cheerily responded: “Have a nice day!”

One cold afternoon as I approached a middle-aged woman getting off a bus, I remarked: “That red coat is a beautiful color on you!”

She smiled broadly, confessed she was lost, and asked if I could help her find her destination. I Googled it on my phone and pointed out the building to her.

Image by Bryan Clayton from Pixabay

Just today I overheard two lawn care workers speaking Spanish during their water break. I smiled and said, “I have a blessing for you–OK?”

They both nodded yes, while one took out his earbud and the other removed his hat. I spoke the Español blessing I memorized when I traveled to Mexico for the Spanish edition of my first book many years ago: “Les mando mucho saludos y bendiciones en el nombre de Cristo .” *

“Muchas gracias!” was the grinning reply.

The ways God uses me as an agent of blessing may look very different than how He uses you, but I believe each  of us “upright” people can be a blessing-deliverer.

You may not be a talkative people-person like I am, but as Christ-followers, the same Spirit who guides and empowers me lives inside you as well! He will use your distinctive personality and gifts to be an agent of blessing no matter what path you’re on–physically or metaphorically speaking.

You might be at the office offering smiles or compliments to co-workers.

You might be home dishing out warm hugs and delicious dinner to children.

You might be sitting on the couch signing a card of encouragement to a struggling friend.

You might be flat on your back in bed picking up the phone to check on another hurting person.

You even might be in a doctor’s office or chemo room silently praying that healthcare workers and patients see Jesus in you– despite the dread you feel.

We may never know this side of Heaven how our blessing touched another person. But whether our travels are happy or hard, planned or pushed upon us, we can trust God to use us as agents of blessing in a world longing for His loving-kindness. 

* (For my non-Spanish speaking friends, “I bring you many greetings and blessings in the Name of the Christ.”)
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Enjoy the words of the old hymn “Make Me a Blessing.”

The One Cancer Patient I Didn’t Like

In my nearly two decades as a cancer patient advocate for Dr. Marc Hirsh, I met (and liked) 3,000+ newly diagnosed patients.

This is a story about the only one I didn’t like and the miracle God did in both our hearts.

That patient was told he always would be under cancer’s shadow. He was told there was no hope of a cure.

What he wasn’t told was that God had other plans.

Image by Axel Mellin from Pixabay

I met “Frank” in January 1997, however  I knew of him already because his wife was our patient and often confided how little support she felt from him on her cancer journey. Her sorrowful stories shaded my opinion before I ever laid eyes on her husband

I still can picture him in our waiting room–the unkempt hair and the long, dirty fingernails. His wife was trying to help with his  new patient paperwork and he wasn’t cooperating.

 

I am embarrassed to say this, but I decided right then and there I didn’t like him. will be cordial, but nothing more, I told myself.

Later that day I discussed Frank’s diagnosis/prognosis with Marc and added, “Did you see the tattoo of the naked lady on his arm?”

“No,” Marc replied. “I was too busy looking at the swastika on his other arm.”

He laughed. As a Jew the symbol was offensive to him, but he wouldn’t allow it to alter the way he treated Frank.

“He probably got it a long time ago and wishes he didn’t,” Marc added.

The next day I dutifully sent Frank a note, slightly exaggerating that it was “nice” to meet him.

A few months later Frank’s wife passed away, and I wondered why he got to live and she didn’t.

It wasn’t long before I got my answer.

In the spring of 1998, Marc told me he was admitting Frank to the hospital because of an accidental chemotherapy overdose. I was very distraught to hear this—not so much for Frank as for Marc, because I knew he was extremely upset. Frank took an oral chemo at home and through a series of errors by him, the pharmacy, and our office, he took a lethal dose.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

“What’s going to happen?” I asked Marc.

“He’s going to die,” he answered matter-of-factly. “I’m putting him in the hospital, but there’s nothing I can do to stop this.”

Frank’s white blood cell count, which should have been between 4,000 and 10,000, had plummeted to 300. Marc read all the medical literature, which predicted it would take two weeks for the count to bottom out. No way Frank could survive that long with no white cells to protect him from infection.

“Well, I’m praying that he won’t die,” I firmly told Marc. (I think I was praying more for Marc than Frank.)

A couple of days later I (finally) went to the hospital to visit this destined-to-die man. Frank spoke  warmly of his late wife and I had to admit he seemed pretty likable in spite of my jaded opinion of him.

At the visit’s end, I asked him if he would like me to pray with him.

“Sure,” he said with a big smile.

So I did, but contrary to the hundreds of times I’d prayed with patients, I did not offer to hold his hand .

Right after that first visit, Frank’s white count started climbing–up to 1,200—still not good, but a whole lot better.

I kept visiting, his count kept rising, and our conversations kept going deeper.

“Are you afraid of dying?” I queried one day.

“Nope,” he replied. “Everybody has to go sometime.”

“What do you think happens to people when they die?” I ventured a little further.

“You either go up or you go down,” he quickly answered.

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But Frank didn’t know which way he was headed, so I shared John 3:36: “Anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life.”

I asked Frank if he wanted to follow Jesus and have that assurance of Heaven. He agreed,  so I took his hand in mine– long, dirty fingernails, offensive tattoo and all—and we prayed.

At my next visit, Frank talked freely about many subjects, including his tattoos, which he said he got many years ago and deeply regretted. (I hate it when Marc is right!)

At the end of our time I asked him if he wanted to pray and he immediately held his hand out to me. He asked me to pray for him to quit smoking and to grow closer to God. We held hands long after the “Amen” and I savored the moment as God filled my heart with more love for Him and for Frank.

A couple of days later Frank’s white count was high enough to leave the hospital. At his first office recheck, he arrived clean shaven, fingernails trimmed, and with a hug and kiss on the cheek for me.

One of the last times I saw Frank was in the spring of 1999 before he moved out West to be near family.  Still in complete remission from his cancer, we talked about the amazing way God had saved him physically and spiritually.

There were tears in Frank’s eyes because knew he had done nothing to “deserve” a miracle. But there were more tears in my eyes because I knew it was only by God’s loving grace that I got to witness His awesome power in the life of the one cancer patient I didn’t want to like.

Excerpted from Finding the Light in Cancer’s Shadow © Lynn Eib 2006 ++++++++++++++++++++

Music video “Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” by Audrey Assad, feat. Fernando Ortega.