In the short six weeks between his diagnosis of cancer and his peaceful death at home on Oct. 14, 2008, my husband gave me a very valuable gift. It was a large, loose-leaf notebook and on the front were the words “What To Do When.” It contained copies of important documents such as insurance policies, his will and even detailed plans for his memorial service. As a result, there was no agonized concern about the service. We simply followed his plan.
Most important to me were the sheets having to do with what I might experience as a widow in grief. For example, he listed what to do when I felt anxious, frustrated, discouraged or sorrowful. Under the latter, he reminded me the ultimate end of human experience is not sadness but joy. He quoted words from John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “The Eternal Goodness”: “I know not what the future hath of marvel or surprise, assured alone in life and death, his mercy underlies.”
So often I’ve turned to the page having to do with disappointment because it was obvious Ralph was dying, and that would be my greatest disappointment. I remembered that in one of Norman Vincent Peale’s books, he said our disappointments often turn out to be God’s appointments. I knew it was time for me to seek to discern the will of God in that experience. The Scripture I use when facing disappointment is Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.”
There is another difficulty, listed on the second page, that we will likely face, and that is criticism. My father used to remind his three children that, when someone criticized us, we were not to respond with unkind words. Instead, he told us to pray that God would fill our critic’s life with blessings. He explained that it would take the hurt from our hearts and might help our critic to overcome his vengeful spirit.
My notebook, “What To Do When,” helps me daily. If you don’t have one, think of starting one.
Nell Mohney is a Christian author, motivational speaker and seminar leader. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.