In my email this morning I received great news from a friend who was diagnosed with an invasive cancer just a few months ago – a cancer of which she is now officially clear. A prayed for but unexpected outcome given the severity of the original diagnosis.
At the Epistle this morning, I couldn’t help but recall my friend’s recent trial and the role prayer played in the good news she relayed today.
When she learned of the cancer – which she detected long before the doctors and had insisted on a biopsy despite the physicians advice to wait and see how it changed or not over time – she was scared but not daunted.
My friend is a skeptical believer. She has an abiding faith, but a worshiping community has not been a part of her adult life and she has some disdain for ‘organized religion,’ altogether.
My friend is a mind over matter, rise above, don’t dwell on the negative, get up and do the right thing. In all the years of knowing her she has never asked for help and at the same time helps and does for everyone else. She is the one who gives the grandest of birthday parties, wedding showers, baby showers, dinner parties with ease and grace. She’s a fabulous ‘doer’, has worked full time as a project engineer, raised two great kids, and helped with four grandkids, played a competitive game of tennis, traveled the world. All with an acerbic wit, great laugh and joyful spirit. She’s a good listener.
And though quite gregarious and a people person, she is also quite private. I hadn’t learned of her diagnosis directly but from one of her closer friends. And what had been shared with me was dire – the location and depth and stage of the cancer was cause for worry. And I was warned that my friend wasn’t taking calls, not sharing the news with many, that she was scared herself but determined and that the best way to reach out was to send her a note letting her know she was in my ‘thoughts.’
I’ve always been intrigued by that phrase, “you are in my thoughts and prayers,” and wondered if ‘thoughts’ was an addition made in the post-Christian modern era. I wonder if in older correspondence we would even see the word ‘thoughts’ in a post script or sign off – rather than the simple, ‘you are in my prayers.’ I suppose to most there’s not a big difference – nothing to quibble over – and the duality of the phrase allows someone to express to a wary believer the assurance that the energy towards healing or comfort emanates from two places – the mind and the heart (where the Spirit lives renewing our minds).
I digress. Point is I had some reservation about the best way to contact my friend – and what thought words and prayer words might be of comfort. I prayed about it and decided to send her some prayers – to say herself. I knew of no other way to let her know she was not alone – that I, along with so many others, were intentionally putting out the good energy, as she might say, that she would be healed – that she would be well. And that she was and always had been in the palm of His hand. I didn’t know if she would think she needed these prayers right now – that she needed to be aware that the Holy Spirit was part of the mix whether she knew it or not.
And my prayers for her were helped, too. I enlisted my worship community to pray for her on a regular basis. When I shared her story with them, they expressed their compassion by offering to me a prayer shawl to give my friend for her time in the hospital and recovery at home.
I took to my friend my prayers, the prayer shawl and the prayers from my worship community. She wasn’t seeing visitors, so I left it on her front porch. I did not expect anything from her – and had told her so in the note – that there was no need to acknowledge anything right now – to just be comforted and know that she was not alone. To be still. To breathe. To pray.
The note of thanksgiving I received from her later that day brought tears to my eyes. She was still in the thick of the mess – nothing yet fully eradicated and lots still unknown. She said she was comforted and that the people of my worship community that had made the shawl had a ‘special place in her heart,’ and no matter the outcome of the coming weeks, it was something she would treasure. She was so gracious – so open to receiving comfort, to receiving help, to receiving healing prayers.
That is hard to do for a person who is of the mind-over-matter inclination. When someone is mind-over-matter, whatever successes in life and set backs a person experiences are attributed to will power, to discipline, are earned or deserved, and due to something that person alone is responsible for doing or not doing. So, accepting help in any form can signal weakness and is thus, not invited. Including help in the form of comfort or prayer.
That is why her note brought tears. My friend was authentically open to receiving the prayers. I wrote back to her this,
So glad you liked – I picked that one for you – the others were ‘too busy’ with colors – I have always loved that Irish knit cable pattern. Enjoy. I will be sure to pass on to the ladies of the Prayer Shawl Ministry your appreciation.
Good to hear you are taking this one day at a time. Don’t let results, or no results, or internet or friends or anything push you past the evolving nature of the cancer that is within. You aren’t one to rush things, generally – so your measured and focused approach to finding the best way to get those nasty bad cells out of your body, seems wise. Just keep up the good deep breathing and get good rest.
Wonder what your grandbabies think of all this? I bet there has to be some humor in the mix – something they’ve said or noticed – that has brought a smile to your face. You are blessed to have come to know your little ones so well, so that now in this temporary season of physical setback, they can attend to you in the loving way you have attended to them – let’s them be sort of ‘grown up’ like.
Keeping you and your well being ever before me in prayer.
Fast forward to this morning and the blessed news of her full recovery. And unlike receiving the news of her diagnosis through the grapevine and in a sort of hush-hush manner, this news came directly from my friend who had kept all of her friends posted through the months via email.
She was so open and transparent through this process, sharing her fears and her resolve, asking for thoughts and prayers. Asking for help. She didn’t hole up and hide away to take care of it all on her own. She didn’t wallow in her pain, no woe-is-me, or why-me. No anger towards the medical system and more importantly, towards God.
Some mind-over-matter people need only one bad diagnosis to forever refute the existence of God – just proof to them that there is none. But not my friend – not even close.
And her email this morning was infused with her knowledge that the eradication of the cancer was due in no small part to,
“…all the “expressions of love and support – they mean the world to me and I am very clear that they helped me get to this very positive place,”
Just what Paul and Timothy wrote to the church in Corinth in today’s Epistle it seems to me.
9Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our* behalf for the blessing granted to us through the prayers of many.
My friend had to come to the place on her own to know that she needed God – needed prayer to navigate this time of physical peril. The Holy Spirit was in the mix, whether she knew it or not, working through the friends and family and God’s church to break through to comfort and help her through.
And my friend, like Paul, opened up, accepted the prayers (her words “expressions of love and support”) and on this glorious second day of Holy Week and days before we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ , my friend knows through every cell of her being that our prayers helped heal and renew her.
Tuesday Lectionary Readings: AM Psalm 6, 12; PM Psalm 94
Lam. 1:17-22; 2 Cor. 1:8-22; Mark 11:27-33