Comfort & the Kindness of Strangers

I begin this post with a heartfelt apology. To those who followed my blog for years and who were left wondering what happened to me after my cancer diagnosis, I sincerely apologize that I’ve not been more forthcoming on this site. While I shared some of my story on Facebook, I felt compelled to focus primarily on treatment and recovery, and to carry my brokenness–of which there was much–to the Cross. I’m sorry if the last 2+ years of blogging silence caused confusion to others as I embarked on this very personal journey.

Plenty of people openly share when they face trials, challenges, sickness, devastation and loss. I’ve even been one of them, at least prior to the cancer episode when I felt the Spirit whisper to me this time will be different. For better or for worse, I would not experience this round of suffering in the public eye as I had in the past.  If you’re familiar with this blog site, you know of my recovery from PTSD related to my home break-in, my struggles and ultimate healing from a brain injury following my car accident, the toll taken on my heart during the Waldo Canyon Fire, my challenges as a single mom. You shared in my despairing journey with my dear mother through her cancer battle. But my own medical story would be written in private as Cancer became an intense introduction to a deeper intimacy with my Creator than I’ve ever known.

When persons I expected to walk closely with me through the valley instead walked away, the pain was too crushing to write about. In retrospect, I understand how even their actions proved instrumental in turning my eyes and heart to Jesus. This was our journey. He wanted my full attention. And He got it.

Please don’t get me wrong. Journaling, blogging, speaking publicly are reasonable outlets for processing grief and suffering. I hold tremendous respect for those who invite the public into their pain. Their vulnerability speaks to their courage and often serves as a source of encouragement.  I personally benefited from such vulnerability over the past 30 months, especially when most tempted to feel sorry for myself in my cancer battle. Comfort seeped through cracks in my heart each time I read Biblical encouragement poured out from a soul-shattered friend as brain cancer ravaged her young child. More comfort blanketed me as another dear friend boldly proclaimed God’s Goodness even through agony of grieving a son killed in Afghanistan. And in the thick of my battle, letters from my warrior Paratrooper son, serving our country from a Middle Eastern sandbox, pleaded with me to fight bravely in his absence. I’m profoundly grateful for fierce testimonies from individuals defiant in the face of enemy forces seeking to crush them, both figuratively and literally.

Even as God reintroduced me to total emotional and spiritual dependency on him, He often brought random humans for immediate physical support, including a friend I met years ago on the East Coast who flew out to spend a week in prayer over me. And multiple strangers. A single woman I barely knew came bearing casserole, cards and comfort. Neighbors shoveled snow from my driveway – ridiculously steep in our Colorado foothills. An elderly couple at a supermarket followed me through a checkout line, then loaded groceries into my car. (They said I looked pale and weak and God told them to help me.) A UPS driver discovered me in my car passed out from radiaton exhaustion and made sure I got home okay. Three unknown teenagers helped me when I lost balance and fell in a parking lot. Coworkers brought food and hugs.  Former students made my home festive with Christmas decorations and music. So much “kindness of strangers”. And so Good Father. I embraced Comfort in unexpected ways that only our Heavenly Daddy could orchestrate. And orchestrate He did…through grueling months of treatment and into my recovery, He sent angels to minister to me in practical ways while family, friends, even clients and literally hundreds of people I’d never met in person bathed me in phone prayers and cards.

In January, the Lord gave me a word for 2019…COMFORT.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  II Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV

Indeed…as we share abundantly in the suffering of Christ, so also our comfort abounds. Now in Remission and restored to health again, I’m called to COMFORT others. What could be more fitting?

 

Advertisements

Kindness in Chaos: 12 Things to Avoid When Someone Tells You They Have Cancer

heart lightning  "If you look closely, you may find 
                  God's Heart--even as lightning 
                  strikes in the darkest places."

When my doctor’s phone number showed up in Caller ID after a week of medical tests, I felt relieved. “Finally, she’s calling to give me a good report and I’ll get on with life.” Instead three words slammed into my optimism, “You have cancer.” Knees buckled, immediate tears stung my cheeks. Every subsequent word sank into a black-hole-like echo of my doctor’s previous statement. Gasps replace my sigh of relief and I struggled to catch what breath remained in me. I felt as if someone ripped every ounce of air from my lungs, collapsing them.

Picture a hot air balloon flopping on the ground at the conclusion of a windy festival.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis shocked my system and ripped my heart. As healthy as I’ve always been, I could not have been less prepared for the news. Disconnecting the call, I’ve never felt more alone in my life. I sensed I faced a journey too turbulent to travel solo. Like Moses with Aaron and Hur, I needed someone to hold me up. Aching for connection with people who love me, I reached out to those closest to me. But with nearly every conversation, I grew more discouraged and less willing to risk vulnerability.

Imagine confiding heart-piercing news with persons you care for only to hear them launch into platitudes. Or stories. Or comparisons. Or false cheerfulness. Or remedies. Or advice. The insensitivity of some people—even those with the best of intentions—staggers the imagination. What one mistakenly considers support, bonding, or encouragement, a cancer patient interprets as dismissiveness. We disclosed to you what likely amounts to the hardest reality of our life and in your eagerness to soothe (Us? Or yourself?), you changed the subject. Or at least the focus of the subject.

God forbid anyone you love ever utters the statement to you, “I have cancer.” But in case those words one day assault your ears, understand that whatever happens or is spoken in the first few moments of such a disclosure could linger in your relationship indefinitely. With this, please keep the following in mind.

(A disclaimer may be appropriate: The following is offered in a sincere desire to bring Kindness to Chaos. I do not profess to speak for everyone with cancer. Even so, please at least consider these avoidances might possibly be universal.)

  1. Don’t tell you own story. If you survived cancer, at some point your story may be invited into the conversation but until then keep it to yourself. As a matter of fact, don’t do anything that makes the situation about you. It isn’t.
  2. Don’t say, “I know how you feel.” You don’t. Every tumor is different (and not all cancers are tumors). Likewise every individual brings to a cancer diagnosis our own set of life struggles & challenges uniquely impacting our cancer journey. Same diagnosis as you doesn’t equal same experience. Ever. Now go back and read #1 again for good measure.
  3. Don’t give advice. Not home remedies. Not nutritional suggestions. Not even a book on meditation or the phone number of your yoga instructor. When we brave pouring out our heart to you, we are most likely in shock or at the very least, still processing the news. Your advice comes out sounding like Charlie Brown’s school teacher… “WaaWaa. Waa. WaaWaaWaa.”
  4. Don’t regale us with stories. Especially about someone else you know who had cancer. Not a relative. Not an old buddy. Especially not your dog. We may be too kind to tell you in that moment but we honestly don’t want to hear other people’s stories. 
  5. Don’t ask questions about specifics of the cancer. We will tell you what we want you to know. Listen. Even when we pause. Keep listening. Silence won’t kill you. If you must comment, muster a sincere, “I’m so sorry.” Or “That really sucks.” Then listen some more.
  6. Don’t blame. This shouldn’t even have to be stated. But sadly, people do this. The healthier-than-thou individual feels a need to boast that HE never smoked, or ate junk food, or missed a single day at the gym in his entire lifetime since Toddler Gymboree. Shaming someone with cancer? Shame on YOU.
  7. Don’t blurt out trivial responses. “It’s going to be okay.” We understand that you’re trying to be encouraging, but you don’t KNOW that it’s going to be okay. And even if the situation DOES turn out okay eventually, at this moment of disclosure life is not okay. This moment is grueling.  Don’t dismiss our pain to make yourself feel better. If you stuff the sorrow of this occasion, chances are we will too. And in that case, neither of us is healthy.
  8. Don’t misrepresent Scripture. “God must really have a lot of confidence in you because the Bible says He won’t give you more than you can bear.” This may not be the best time to break it to you but the Bible says no such nonsense. Have you read about Job? Or Paul? Or Steven? Call me quirky, but I believe losing all your children in one day, being boiled in oil or stoned to death qualifies as more than a person can bear.
  9. Don’t ask, “What do you need?” While scratching the surface of helpfulness, this question contributes to confusion. The truth is, we don’t know what we need. Not really. We can barely wrap our mind around the whirlwind of treatment details and the decisions looming in the days ahead. Please don’t compound the mental chaos. A more appropriate question may be, “Who is helping coordinate your care so I may arrange to drive you to a doctor appointment? Or bring you a meal? Or do a load of laundry? Or clean your bathroom?” Offer one specific way you may contribute.  Then deliver on the commitment.
  10. Don’t be afraid to cry with us. Recognize that a first conversation with someone sharing cancer news is sacred. We’re hoping you’ll hear our heart breaking through our words. We may silently search your eyes for compassion. We may secretly wish you’d wrap your arms around us and hold us as we cry. Even so, we’re probably trying to be tough for your sake when inside our rock wall lies in pebbles and rubble. “May I give you a hug?” could go a long way to communicate sincere sorrow for this situation. And for crying out loud, if you’re going to hug, make it a REAL one. Even if we start to shake. Or cry. If that happens, we’re probably overdue for tears. Hold on tighter and encourage the tears to flow.
  11. Don’t simply make prayer promises. “You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.” Future thoughts and prayers are wonderful. But if you’re a spiritual person, PRAY right then and there. At least ask, “May I pray with you?” Then keep it brief but encouraging. If we truly believe Prayer Changes Things, why don’t we pray more often?
  12. Don’t focus every subsequent conversation on cancer. If we told you we have cancer, it’s likely because a meaningful tie already exists. Continue the rhythm of the relationship or friendship by talking about things we’ve always talked about, share the same things we’ve always shared, and engage in the activities we’ve previously enjoyed together (to the extent we’re physically able).

Cancer sucks. Don’t let your reaction to cancer news amplify the suck. Kindness matters. Especially in the chaos of a cancer diagnosis.

Please share these tips with friends and loved ones. The truth is, we live in a broken world and bad things happen everyday. These tips could apply, not simply to a cancer diagnosis, but to any tough news someone discloses to you. Keep those moments sacred and you’ll preserve a dear friendship through what will likely be a very difficult journey.

DiAnna Steele is a writer, speaker, and a cancer patient, currently trusting God to give her wisdom and courage for the battle ahead. She is grateful for your prayers and support as outlined above. Otherwise, she counts on your silence. www.diannasteele.com 


To Give is To Love

We can learn much from watching how others express love, who they chose to love and the motives behind their love.

The world tosses around the word “Love” to fit all kinds of scenarios. I love my dog. I love peppermint chocolate chip ice cream. I love a drive through Colorado mountains on a sunny day. I love the sound of a rushing river. I love my old fuzzy slippers and a fire in winter. I love my job. I love my kids. I love my family. I love Jesus. The possibilities are endless. But only a few of those represent opportunities for real love. And of those few, all are a choice that I make. Or not.

Love is a decision followed by action. 

In studying Old Testament words for love, I discovered, “AHAVA” which translates “I give”.

When we love, we give. When we give, we love. Simple. But not always easy.

We love by giving what others need, not what we want to give. It’s easy for me to give hugs because I enjoy getting hugs in return. But what if the person I’m hugging really needs space and an encouraging word? Am I willing to take the time to learn what makes others feel loved and then give them what they need?

So much of what passes as love is based in selfish desires to get something in return. Only when we give, expecting nothing in return do we truly love.

John 3:16 begins, “For God so LOVED the world, He GAVE…” (New Testament) Herein is the epitome of Love. Sacrificial giving, Selfless. No strings attached.

Giving doesn’t have to be extravagant but it will cost you something. Time. Emotion. Energy. Sleep. Tears. Sweat. We give when we take time to play catch with a son, when we wait up in wee hours of the night for a daughter to return home, when we listen to the heart of a friend, when we walk hand-in-hand with a sweetheart. We give when we pray for another or sit beside a hurting friend in silence. We give when we affirm and encourage someone. We give when we demonstrate respect even to those who don’t deserve it. We give by showing up and digging in. We give by serving even in personal exhaustion. And in all this giving, we are loving.

What will you give today? Or in essence, How will you choose to Love today? On my birthday I wanted to give you this gift, this reminder that to give is to love. I hope you’ll share this with someone you love and ask them, “How may I love you better?” Ask. And be prepared to give...