Friday, December 21, 2007

When sleep doesn't come, I think and when thoughts start coming, I can't sleep. Earlier in the week someone told me a story that prompted tonight's thoughts. It seems that some well meaning folks included the name of a cancer patient on a Christmas tree that is usually associated with children at risk, children of those incarcerated--in other words people who might be considered "down and out." A gift was delivered to the patient and he was properly grateful--just a bit puzzled how/why his name was on the tree. No explanation was given. The thought was sincere, but the gesture came across as pity.

Pity is the last thing a cancer patient needs! I remember cancer #1. For every loving, thoughtful person there was at least one more who stumbled over their conversations with me. Some stayed away and said nothing. Others spoke in whispers or changed the subject when I approached the group. It was almost as if I had leprosy. I was forging ahead trying to keep our lives as normal as possible and I didn't need pity. I did and continue to need the prayers and the presence of our family and friends.

In fact, if you ask me, prayer and presence are two of the greatest gifts you can share with a cancer patient.

We are sustained and uplifted by the prayers offered in our behalf. I believe so emphatically that God works through the prayers of His people and have gained strength both physically and emotionally as God has answered prayer requests. I also believe in praying specifically. If you don't know what those specifics are, ask the person how you can pray for them. Or, if you are so inclined, ask if you can pray with them. (You don't have to be a minister to pray aloud.) Just remember that prayer is not a magic potion. People do not always get better; side effects of chemo are unpleasant to say the least. For myself, I pray that if the cancer is not to be taken away that He will give me His all sufficient grace to keep going. As a pastor, that is always my prayer when visiting with a person who is terminally ill.

I have spoken many times about the ministry of presence. Words are not always necessary, but your physical presence means more than anyone can say. I have two really special friends who have prayed and been present with me during all four of my cancer occurences, They know when to talk and when to listen. They have laughed and cried with me. They would do anything to make me cancer free and I know it. Their presence in my life has assured me of it. They never expressed pity. They helped me keep my life "normal" by feeding us, helping with our children, running errands and by treating me as a person, not a victim. In the other episodes of illness we have lived miles apart--for a while over 2000 and most recently almost 300. I continue to experience their presence by phone calls, notes and visits. There are many ways we can be present in someone's life.

If you're the patient, be humble enough to accept help and the love and concern that prompts it. If you're the friend, pray specifically and find creative new ways to be present. God will bless your efforts and your friend will have a better day.

Pastor Margaret

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