It’s Thanksgiving week. Time for turkey, football, family and the giving of thanks.  Thanksgiving is usually my favorite holiday, but this year my wife has cancer.  The annual feast of gratitude takes on a new dimension when you are experiencing life with the number two cause of death in America. Even though she is doing well, and the prognosis is for full recovery, it is a sobering time.  I should be depressed and angry.  Certainly, my wife would have a right to be out of the holiday mood, but… that’s not how we feel.

We feel thankful.  How can we feel gratitude with cancer in our lives?

The question is really bigger than that.  How can you feel gratitude when your life is in a serious downturn?

  • Can you be grateful when someone you love has recently died?
  • Can you be thankful when your child is in prison?
  • Can you be grateful when your family has been shattered by divorce?
  • Can you be thankful when your business is sinking financially?

The answer is yes, and here’s two reasons why:

First of all, if you will access gratitude you will be happier. Why?

  • You will enjoy better relationships with your friends and family.
  • You will enjoy greater success in your work.

Gratitude can not only increase your enjoyment of life, but it will actually make your life more successful.  I just read a wonderful book on developing charisma for personal    success and I was surprised to learn it had a section on developing gratitude.  Here’s a     quote from the book:

“Everyone seems to be preaching gratitude these days. Oprah champions an “attitude of gratitude,” and studies have come out showing that gratitude helps you live longer, healthier, and even happier. The science is compelling, as are the ways in which gratitude can boost your charisma.  If you can access gratitude, an instant change will sweep through your body language from head to toe; your face will soften, your whole body will relax.  Your body language will emanate both warmth and a particular grounded confidence that people will find very appealing.”     Olivia Fox Cabane  “The Charisma Myth”

  • You will enjoy more of the life you have left.

Our pain can narrow our vision.  We can fail to see the good that still abounds in our lives when we are dealing with a   disappointment or pain. The Bible commands us to be thankful in all circumstances, because in almost all situations there remain reasons to rejoice.

Secondly,  the choice of gratitude will protect you from bitterness.I have a friend who lost a beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter in a car accident.  She told me that after a season of nearly unbearable grief and spiritual confusion, she made a decision to give her questions to God and move on.  She said her motivation was selfish.  “I did not want to be a bitter, old woman.”

I choose to be grateful this thanksgiving in spite of my wife having cancer because I want to be happy and I refuse to be bitter.  I hope you will choose gratitude as well this holiday season even if you’re going through a difficult time. So pass the cranberry and the candied yams.   Turn up the volume on the TV and let’s root for the Cowboys.  Oh, and if you ask me to pray, get ready for little bit longer prayer than usual, because I want to thank God for all Barbara and I still have in spite of her cancer.

WHAT IN THE WORLD DO I SAY?

My wife is dealing with cancer and I’m learning some things about that far too common journey.   The ironic thing is that I’ve been writing a book on cancer with a friend, who is dealing with the strain of her second diagnosis of cancer.   For the past year, I’ve sent her a daily devotion and she has been journaling her response to each day’s post.  We hope to publish a book to help people find spiritual support and practical wisdom to help with their struggles.

It looks like I’ll be writing a chapter I never dreamed I would write….when cancer came to my family.

One of things I’m learning is how hard it is to support a loved one in a great trial.  It’s been said that it is harder to watch someone you love go through pain, than it is to go through it yourself. I know I’m finding it difficult to say the correct words to help my wife.  This is due to wondering “what is the right thing to say?”, not whether or not I want to be encouraging.    This dilemma is not a  “cancer”specific problem, but rather applies to anyone with a loved one in pain.

  • What do you say to a friend who says, “I have cancer?”
  • How do you encourage someone who says, “My husband left me for another woman?”
  • What expression of hope is appropriate for the one whose child just died?
  • How do you answer the question, “Why did this terrible thing happen to me?”
  • What can you say to the one who got laid off two weeks after his wife had a baby?

Now the problem is not having something to say.  The problem is not saying something that is trite in sentiment or that sounds callous to the one who is hurting.

  • Don’t say – “I know how you feel.” Nobody knows how anyone feels
  • Don’t say – “I am sure everything will be okay.” You don’t know that.
  • Don’t’ say – “I have a friend who had the same surgery, etc.” Your friend’s experience is not relevant.
  • Don’t’ say – “let me know if I can help.” Find a way to help.
  • Don’t say – “God needed your loved one in heaven.” That makes God sound cruel.

What do you do when someone you know gets the worst news ever? Maybe, don’t say anything at all. Do something!  Anything.   Say a prayer. Write a personal note. Make a personal visit.  Bring a meal to the house.   Make a phone call.  Make yourself available to listen.  Or try this, just go sit by their side and saying nothing at all while you hold their hand.

When someone gets the worst news ever, do something that will make you their best friend ever. Show them that you care.   That’s what they really need.  They don’t need a solution, they need to know they are loved.

P.S.  Let me know in the comment section you’d like to receive the cancer, or going through trial devotions, I mentioned in the last post.  I’m still compiling a list.

When You Get The Worst News

Other families have cancer, not us.”

That’s what my daughter said when my wife, her mother, was recently diagnosed with cancer.  It is a body blow to hear that someone you love has the disease that is the second leading cause of death in America.  You would think that I’d handle the news better.  As a Pastor of many decades,  I have made countless hospital calls and prayed with hundreds of people diagnosed with cancer.  I still struggled to get my mind around it.  Maybe, all my exposure to other people’s battle with the disease made my own acceptance of it more difficult.  Ignorance sometimes really is bliss.  But, cancer is now part of my family’s journey whether we like it or not.

I have to say that our family is as prepared for this challenge as any can be.  We have all the factors for a successful treatment in our favor.  We are blessed with insurance to help with the enormous costs. We are blessed with outstanding physicians and hospitals and are receiving excellent treatment.  We are surrounded by loving family and friends to encourage us.  We are strengthened by an amazing church family that is so supportive.  Most of all, we are people of faith that live in confidence of our God’s active role and plan for our lives, including this cancer.  With all these supporting factors, we are confident of success and moving ahead as bravely as we can manage. Our struggle, compared to those faced by many others, is small.

However, this blog is not about our battle with cancer.  It’s about how to deal with the day when the worst thing you can imagine happens in your life.   All of us will face such a day.  How do you manage it when the prognosis is negative, the balance sheet is shockingly red, and the divorce papers show up in your mailbox?   How do you cope with middle of the night phone call that begins with the words, “I sorry to have to inform you?”

Here are some suggestions I give my coaching clients:

  • Start to prepare now for what you don’t know is coming.
  • Strengthen your bonds now with those who truly care for you.
  • Exercise your problem-solving muscles now with easier issues.
  • Do your best to get your finances ready now for any crisis that may come.
  • Develop your spiritual life now before the crisis appears.
  • MOST OF ALL DON’T PANIC

My family is doing well with our cancer journey.  It’s early on in the struggle.  We’ve had a couple of minor surgeries, and we are reviewing our options as our wonderful doctors lead through this journey.   We are believing for a complete recovery and learning to love each other more every day. But, whatever comes, we know our God will get us through.  May God bless you if you are facing a daunting challenge in your life.   I know you can find the strength to not just, “survive, but thrive,” if you’ll keep your attitude positive and your faith strong.

P.S.  I have been writing a daily devotion, for another cancer sufferer that will hopefully become a book. If you are interested in signing up to receive these devotions contact me on this website.