At midnight tonight I will have been sick for one full week.  I can’t remember the last time I was this sick, for this long.

Monday I had tests run and was diagnosed with a condition that it turns out is both common and life-changing.  Not life-changing in the chemo kind of way, but life changing just the same … unless of course I want to remain in the pain I’ve felt this week.  And though it is common, few people talk about it because … well … it doesn’t make for polite or even interesting conversation.

Now that the worst seems to be past, I’m working on becoming pain-free, getting stronger, researching and making a plan for living into this new lifestyle.

One thing I’ve noticed with the onset of the pain and the diagnosis,is that I not only lost days at work, I lost my essence.

Essence:  all those things we think of when we think of a particular person.  The way they laugh.  The way they talk.  The way they move through a room.  The inside jokes we share with them that make us feel special.  The shine on their hair … or head!  Their ability to change the atmosphere in a room when they enter it.

Essence:  everyone has one;  but no one lists it on a resume.

I don’t think I ever really considered essence until mine went missing.  And I didn’t even realize it was missing … Other people did.

I could see it in their eyes.

That was one of the hardest things for me:  to look at people I loved;  people who loved me back, and see in their eyes very real pain — not their own, but mine.  Their eyes changed by the pain they saw in me;  they didn’t plan it that way, it just happened.  Maybe that’s why eyes are known as windows to the soul.

I couldn’t even write about this until today because writing, too, is part of my essence — which went AWOL.

Which leads me to this good news:  today, it began to return.  I am walking upright.  I am exchanging more witty texts.  I am listening to music and more than anything, I am hopeful.

Hope, as it turns out, is not something I just talk and write about;  like my very bones, it is in me.  And maybe that’s why it was so hard for those who visited me.  When we know someone who carries hope everywhere they go, and they lose it, it is a frightening thing for all.

Earlier in the week I sent an email to all the folks in my congregation to let them know my condition and set their expectations that I would be off the radar while I healed and sought to understand my new future.

I could not have brought the information in that email — the email that I didn’t want to write or send — to this place, my beloved blog, which is followed by some of my dearest friends and family.

This is a place in which I observe life from a position of hope;  where I reflect on people and situations through the lens of the gifts they bring or the legacies they leave behind.

And that’s how I know my essence is slowly returning:  because I am here now, telling you, my readers:

When you visit someone who is either sick or grieving such that they have lost their essence, if at all possible, bring with you hope.  They need it every bit as much as they need chicken soup and a warm blanket.

If you can’t honestly bring hope for the situation they are in — bring hope for tomorrow, that it will not always be this way.  Or bring hope that even in this, your love for them remains.  Bring hope that even when their essence is missing, you believe, it will return.  Bring hope that while you love their essence, they are more than that which they bring into a room.

And be patient if for awhile, they really cannot see you.  Looking into the eyes of those who noticed my essence was missing is something I had never before experienced … and I could have lived happily without it.

Except this:  happy is not always on the menu of life now, is it?  I honestly believe this experience and my new future will make me a better person, a better pastor, a more sensitive and compassionate friend.

I appreciate all those who have held me up this past week, including those who visited and could not keep the pain from showing in their eyes.

But on this day, I want every single one of you to know this:

Hope remains.

Let’s look for it together.


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