When I get bad news I usually let my emotions out and then I go straight to my journal. Writing is my outlet when I’m in shock and in pain and this is one of those times.
We got a call last Thursday that my friend Elaine had been given a really crappy prognosis. 4-6 weeks they told her. I was in Dallas but immediately knew as soon as the plane landed back in Nashville I wanted to lay my eyes on her. When I did, all I could do was cry. She ended up consoling ME instead of me going in being the comforting pastor’s wife I had planned on being.
I started making plans to visit every day with her, and my heart soared when the family allowed us to keep seeing her. We felt extremely honored and was so thankful for their generosity. I had it all pictured. I was going to show up everyday, laptop in hand, and write a letter in her own words to her husband Mike, each of her three daughters, and each of her grandkids. I wanted them all to hear her wisdom which was great, and her love for them which was vast.
I know about this wisdom and unending love for her family because I made a decision a couple of years ago that afforded me precious time with Elaine. This decision stemmed from being at churches and working in offices and being told no to things I wanted to do because, “If we do it for one, then we have to do it for all.” We’ve all heard that saying and many of us have lived our lives thinking it was true. But when my friend Elaine was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, I wanted to help her any way that I could. I found out she was sitting, sometimes for 4-5 hours, in her chemo appointments. I wanted to go to those with her, but I thought as a pastor’s wife if I spend that kind of time with her then others will expect me to do that for them and it could cause conflict. In other words, what I did for one I would have to do for all, and I couldn’t do that. As I was thinking through that saying I felt yucky and knew that idea was flawed. The thought came to my mind of a quote I heard years before from Andy Stanley which went,
“What I want to do for everybody, do for one.”
BOOM! That revelation made so much more sense, and totally obliterated the excuse for non-action I had been taught before. So I set out to do just that. I did for Elaine what I wanted to do for everybody. I started going to as many of those appointments as I could. And if you know me, you know I work constantly because I love my jobs. My mind rarely slows, and my phone is constantly buzzing. Those appointments became a treasured time. My phone would be put away for hours and my focus was totally on my friend Elaine. She would take me around and introduce me to people as though she was proud of me being her friend. She would send me over to other chairs of people she knew were “really suffering” and ask me to pray for them. If someone came in that looked particularly sickly I could always tell when she felt pity for them. But the minute I would try to pity her and what she was going through she would cut me off immediately. There was no time for pity in Elaine’s world. Life was too short and she was “just fine”. I can still hear her voice saying, “Just fine!”
We spent those hours talking about everything from our love of 70’s rock, to her level of Candy Crush she was on. I heard about her touring all over the world with a singing group she was in earlier, and we would end up on deep theological debates. I would usually have to act out some crazy event that had just happened to me, and more than once we got in trouble from the nurses for being too loud. We laughed a lot together.
These appointments quickly turned into not me helping her, but her helping me through the problem of the day, her helping me slow down long enough to just enjoy a few hours of talking face to face with a friend, her listening to me ramble on and on about my life, my family, my work, my travels. Elaine had that effect on people. Even though there wasn’t that much difference in our ages (she called me a young pup! haha) she just had that calming quality that seemed older, wiser, more graceful, and far more in control of things than I have ever been. I was drawn to that demeanor, that friendship, that sisterhood.
Elaine was a trusted, loyal, friend that is walking with Jesus and has been for 3 days now. I keep hearing her voice in my head remembering things she told me that actually was helping me prepare for this day, this time, of not having her anymore. Things like, “Remember now, I want a celebration when its my time. I’m going HOME!”
So yeah…I thought I had a lot more time with her and would get to live out my plan…but God knew better. I will forever be grateful I spent this time with her instead of succumbing to the old adage. My advice to you reading this blog is not to ever rob yourself because you believe what you do for one you might have to do for all. Maybe your actions won’t be fair to everyone, but life isn’t fair. Take the time to do for ONE what you want to do for ALL and you just may find your own Elaine.
I am a better person for having known her.
(The featured image on this blog is a picture of Elaine I took in January of this year. This moment was in the middle of a women’s conference I was hosting and I was sitting at the head table with all the speakers, worship leader, etc. This table was reserved for the people who were “important” to have easy access to the stage. I couldn’t think of anyone more important than her right then so I asked her to sit with me at that table. She just giggled and said, “ok!” and enjoyed her bird’s eye view. I was overwhelmed with how much I enjoyed her friendship and getting to see the conference unfold through her eyes, so I snapped this picture.)