And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere.
(Acts 1:8, NLT)
Shortly after beginning to work on the oncology unit, I met Mrs. Hughes. She was in her late 50s and had breast cancer. She and her husband had three adult daughters. Once a month, she would be admitted for chemotherapy, and I gradually formed a strong bond with her and her family. She lived life with gusto and approached her cancer with an optimistic spirit that was contagious, We had many opportunities to chat about her children, her charity work, and her zest for life.
One thing we didn’t discuss was spiritual issues. I had previously worked with a woman who believed God had called her to pray with every patient she encountered. While it sometimes went well and was much appreciated, I also observed times when the patients were offended and disturbed by prayer. Rather than risk repeating those scenarios, I decided that prayer would never be par of my treatment plan. I would simply be a cheerful, compassionate person, and, hopefully, others would notice and ask why I was different. I would then explain that I was a Christian and that God made a difference in my life.
Unfortunately, the chemo wasn’t effective for Mrs. Hughes, and the doctors shared the sad news with her. Now, when she was admitted, it was because she had an infection or needed better pain control. The cancer had spread to her lungs and she had difficulty breathing.
I arrived at work one morning and learned that Mrs. Hughes had been admitted during the night and was not expected to live long. I got a quick report, then headed straight for the room. There, huddled around her bed, was her family. I slipped in and listened as they shared stories of family vacations, Christmas gifts, and practical jokes. Realizing I had some memories to share myself, I quietly stepped forward as they welcomed me into their circle. I told them what an inspiration she had been to me—how I admired her indomitable spirit.
Soon, I realized I must go and check on my other patients, but I struggled to leave. “Would it be okay if I said a prayer with you?” The words were out of my mouth before I even thought, and I immediately regretted them. however, the group seemed grateful; so I offered a short prayer, then excused myself to make rounds.
One of the daughters followed me out into the hallway and grabbed me by both arms. “Kathy,” she exclaimed with amazement, “We didn’t know you were a Christian!” She was thrilled….I was devastated! Here was a family that I had known for nearly a year while working in a faith-based hospital, and they had no idea I was a Christian.
“Let your light shine” took on new meaning for me as I realized I would always be more intentional about my faith after meeting Mrs. Hughes.
-Kathy McMillan is director of LLUMC department of employee spiritual care