February 24, 2007
What Do You Say?
Yesterday, a close friend of mine’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. When she called I just didn’t know what to say and I so desperately wanted to say the right thing and not say the wrong thing or not not say something I should say. I’ve never been through anything like this personally. And I’ve walked through enough things to know that you don’t know what you don’t know and you certainly don’t know like someone who knows so don’t pretend to know.
So after I hung up the phone I did four things. I went directly into my walk-in closet and prayed. I know that sounds so godly but the truth is, because I love this friend so much, it felt like I had been kicked in the stomach with this news and I needed to get away and get alone and just be doubled over with the Lord.
I didn’t know what to say to my friend but not having the words didn’t limit me with the Lord. I could pour my heart out to Him and He understood. I could pray with words that failed and then I could groan when even those words failed. I could bring this extended family that I know so little, yet love so deeply due to the mystery of friendship, before Him and He knows each one of them intimately. All I knew to do was ask that He hear the cry of my heart to answer the cry of their hearts even though I don’t know the particulars of their secret soul-tears.
Even though I know God knows, I want to know, too. I want to know how to pray specifically. I love that about God. Yes, we can groan before Him and the Holy Spirit will listen to our yearnings and deliver the messages we’ve attempted to express in our heart-broken English to the Father. But He is also a detail God and He loves it when we ask Him for specifics so He can show Himself intimate and personal in His bigness.
So the next thing I did was get on the Internet and learn as much as I could learn about this kind of cancer. I want to fight this battle in prayer with my friends. To do that, it helps to know what we’re up against. It would be foolish to go to war without knowing your enemy and having a strategy to win.
I not only want to know how to pray but I do want to know what to say. So the next thing I did was call another friend of mine from California who had just left my house the day before. We’ve been friends for over 25 years and yet, due to a God set-up, this trip drew us closer together than ever before. Who knew I would need her again so soon? While she was here we spent some time talking about the personal journey I have been on these past few months. She informed me that I had boarded “The Truth Train.” She’s been on this train many times in her life, most recently when she walked beside her best friend through cancer and to the gates of Heaven.
I asked her what kind of friend she would have wanted to walk beside her as she walked beside her friend. What can I say to bring comfort? When will I know when to simply be quiet and listen? How will I know when to be there for her and how will I know when to just be here for her? I received the following email last night filled with such gentle wisdom that I wanted to share the whole thing with you.
Yesterday after you called I had to go to the hospital, a friend of mine's daughter had a baby that was stillborn...drama. Which brings me to your friend. You know, Lisa, it is funny that you are trying to feel your way through some things, and so many of us would like to not feel so much.
The thing about cancer is everyone has a story of somebody that they have heard of that...those stories are of no comfort and nobody wants to hear them. This is your friend’s mom's story. I will call her Linda. Linda is Linda. Linda is not a lady with cancer. Cancer is just a small part of her existence. It may be so that this diagnosis will mean that she will be gone sooner than later, but there is so much of her that has nothing to do with cancer. Mostly that she brought your friend up, and what a significant part she has played in her life and who she is today.
If I were you, I would keep reminding your friend that we don't know what tomorrow holds, but today...Linda is here. Hopefully like you with your mother, Linda has built a relationship with her daughter that will contain this new information, but will not be defined by it.
You and your friend are close and everything will go on just like it did before the diagnosis. Now, she will share all there is about her mom with you and all you can do is listen and give advice as if you were talking about your mom. None of us know what is right to do or say. The waters are unchartered. Just like the baby today, who knows what to say when a mother holds a dead infant and tries to make sense of her pregnancy and loss. You know...we can't see the end of the road but your friend will be fine.
Another thing, nobody wants to be a statistic of any kind. We all want our story to be about us. Linda's story is written, you just get to read it a page at a time. I would encourage your friend not to skip any pages and absolutely not to read the end first! Each day is precious. We will all die. We just don't know what day.
Isn't it strange how you were put into your friend’s life to be with her during this time? God chose you to be a comfort and confidante to her. I know you will be just what she needs. I love you. By the way, the Truth Train doesn't travel on tracks so hang on. I will write more if I think of things that helped me.
Always, your friend.
PS-The fact that you are calm and not dramatic sounds perfect to me. I love that in people. There is quite enough chaos during illness, calm and not overly emotional is good.
The last thing I did was send my current favorite CD and a card to my friend and her mother. This CD, “Sing Over Me,” has been the soundtrack of my life while I’m on the “Truth Train.” It is a collection of gentle, tender reminders of worship. I want to be with my friend and her mother on this journey but the fact is, that will not be possible for the majority of it. I can be there in spirit, I can carry them in my heart, we can meet before the Throne in prayer but, physically, I will be here and they will be there.
If I were there I would want to hold them and encourage them and just sit there and be with them in the stillness of not knowing. And yet, even if I could, my touch would be so limited. At best, I can embrace from the outside-in. God can hold us from the inside-out.
The Bible tells us that God inhabits the praises of His people. My prayer is that as these dear ones whom I love so much listen and enter into the atmosphere of worship on this CD that they will experience everything I long to say from the very incarnation of the perfect Word.
I share this journal entry with you today knowing that, like my friend’s email said, everyone knows someone who has a story or is living the story where cancer has become a major character in this chapter of their lives. I still don’t know what to say but I will say it anyway. Jesus is the Word of Life who became flesh for us that we might be able to touch Him and receive His touch. We are to become like Jesus in all things. Let’s risk wrapping our hearts in words so that we, perhaps especially in our humanity, may walk beside our friends able to hold hands on our journeys.
Posted by weblion at 05:32 PM