Six Words

Jun 25, 2014

The lesson came packaged in a card.

A homemade card, with a colored-pencil picture of a child on the front and these words:

“Sending you mighty prayers.”

Inside, handwritten messages filled both sides of the fold and the back. Fifty-one of them in all. FIFTY-ONE. In pencil, pen, and colored pencil. Names I didn’t recognize—stranger’s names—ended each message, both first and last names.

I nearly wept as I read each word. Yes, each and every word. Not because it was the first card I’d received. Not because it was more sincere or thoughtful or ornate than so many beautiful others that landed in my mailbox this spring.

The card sparked tears simply because of what those fifty-one names represented.

Through an old friend I hadn’t seen in decades, a group of Texas inmates came to hear about my story—our family’s story. For reasons I don’t fully understand, this group of prisoners committed to pray for me. Way back in February, when I still hovered in so many unknowns. And every week for the past several months, they call their outside connection for an update. So they can continue to do battle on my behalf.

Whoa.

And so I opened the mail, took one look at the canvas of names with a Texas return address, and the tears welled. I then walked downstairs to where my husband worked in office, thrust the card forward and choked out a “Here. Look at this.”

He opened the card, looked at all the names, seemed unimpressed. Until he asked, “Who’s this from?” I answered. Then he responded much like me.

Whoa.

For this moment, I’m asking you not to think about where this group of gentlemen live and the muriad of reasons they find themselves there. Instead, I want you to see fifty-one individuals who chose to serve the need of a stranger. It’s powerful, isn’t it? How one unexpected and beautiful sacrifice, offered without expectation of return, can change the pain in another’s circumstance?

The following morning, the morning after I opened my homemade card, I opened my Bible to read. These are the words that wrapped themselves around me when I opened this “second piece of mail”:

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” —Matthew 26:38

I’ve probably read those words more than a hundred times. Jesus said those words, on the dark night of his arrest, crushed as he was by an awareness of the suffering to come. His circumstances incapacitated him with grief. And so he leaned into his friends, expressed his deep need and the means for them to meet it.

Stay here and keep watch with me.

Only they didn’t.

Too often, neither do we.

These six words are the words you and I whisper when we find ourselves arrested by a dark night. When the weight of life crushes, grief incapacitates and the worry chokes, we lean into those closest and hope they will help.

I know this. Because I’ve done it, even if I never said the words.

And yet, as I faced the words in my Bible, I had to face the truth that when another suffers, I too often forget. Instead, I wring my hands and worry. What should I say to the neighbor who lost her daughter? What do I say to the man whose wife ran away? How do I comfort the homeless, jobless, dying, and sick? Afraid to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, too often I walk on. Or fall asleep. Or get busy. Or otherwise leave the grieving in their dark night alone.

Sometimes you do, too. And I get it. I understand why we resort to silence when we don’t know what to say. But what if the needs of those who suffer weren’t that complicated? What if it only takes six words?

Stay here. And keep watch. With me. 

It’s what the lonely and dying and grieving need, even if she doesn’t know how to ask.

Stay here. Slow down. Don’t rush past my pain. It’s hard to watch. It’s ugly, I know. But I need presence. This requires more than a drive-by, more than a quick wave and a “You’re in my prayers!” Stay here, please? There is something rare and sacred about exposed and vulnerable places. Something garden-like, maybe? New life could happen, for both me and you. If you’ll just stay a while.

Keep watch. Will you look out for me? I need you to be my eyes, to stay awake, search out danger, be ready to fight for life. I can’t see through my tears. As much as I love you, I don’t need your 3-step-plans or personal horror stories. But I do need to know you have my back, and that when I’m about to collapse, you’ll catch my fall. I’m all out of strength.  Can you lend some of yours?

With me. Is there anything more beautiful to the sick and wounded and grieving than nearness? I can endure any suffering as long as I know I’m not alone. But being “with” is more than passing through a high-traffic intersection. Sit with me, even if I can’t give anything in return. I need more than your voice over the phone and your words over a message. Come close enough to touch. It’s enough.

Stay here. Keep Watch. With me.

It’s what grief needs. And, whether you and I know it or not, it’s what we need as well.

To the group of TX prayer warriors who prayed tirelessly for me and our family, I never said those six words, and yet you lived out their answer beautifully. Thank you.

Because of you, I’m learning to do the same.

Six Words

Who has kept watch with you during a dark night? And who needs you to do the same? 

23 Comments

  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Whoa. Michele, what a touching post and what a group of prayer warriors you found yourself surrounded with! Almost thirty years ago, after losing my father to suicide, I waited for my very best friend to call. I needed her so badly. How could I make sense of this tragedy without her? My phone rang almost constantly for several days. None of the calls were from her. I felt abandoned by my friend and it added another layer of pain to a horrible situation. Later, after his memorial service, I got up the courage to ask her why. “I didn’t know what to say,” she said.

    She is still my best friend, and I understand how her young heart was afraid back then. I have felt it myself. I have a very close friend here in Montana. Her husband, who was also my friend, was recently killed in a car accident. Her grief is palpable. Her silence, when we are together, is uncomfortable. Where did my friend go? Where is her laughter when we are together? But I remember how I felt when my best friend didn’t call me…and I stay close to this friend…and I am keeping watch with her.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Such a tough lesson to learn. But I love that you let it change how you respond. Well done. {p.s. my heart aches for your friend. such a horrible loss. prayers for her heart.}

      Reply
  2. Dee

    Almost 60 years old and never commented on anything…surveys, requests for feedback, compliments, concerns…nothing…but what a simple…not easy but simple…call from the heart of God to His hands in the world. Thank you. May God keep the eyes of your heart open to His unfailing love and grace. Hug

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Dee, I love that you “came out of hiding” to leave a comment here. It’s my honor to meet you!

      Reply
  3. Jennifer Gentry

    Oh Michele,
    I so needed to read this today. What beauty from ashes. May God bless those strangers who blessed you. I am currently in a pit of my own – my mother with her dementia and returned lung cancer, my daughter with unexplained heart pain and palpitations and my best friend who is suffering mentally, physically and financially as she continues to inspire and encourage other women to embrace and love themselves for all they are …… my heart aches for them…..the burden of their pain and worry crushing me BUT, you, in only the way you can, shine a beacon of light and hope my way! I’m NOT alone – HE stands with me, ever present, ever watchful, ever faithful…..THANK YOU for reminding me to not only to continue to look up but to look to my side, because He is always with me. Much love, blessings, and peace to you and yours. Lifting your precious parents up everyday too!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Sharing another burdens is not for the faint of heart. Your compassion is astounding.

      Reply
  4. Jenny Mosier

    You again are a healing salve for my heart!!! I remember when you received that card, and it brought tears to my eyes. And reading this today reminded me of a card I received after my first diagnosis from a ministry in India. It was a ministry our church supported, and I had heard so many stories of the hardships they face as they share the Gospel, and here I was all safe in my home, and they were praying for ME. Beautiful humility right there!!!! And one of my most precious gifts was a friend who came & just sat with me. We chatted, looked at pictures, whatever. But she gave me her time, which is the very thing I try so hard to hold tight, often selfishly.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Oh, wow. Beautiful examples of exactly what I wrote about. I will never forget the friend who spent entire days just sitting with me (while I slept!). Just her time and presence (close enough to touch) brought more comfort than anything she could have said.

      Reply
  5. Karen Stivers

    Susie Baker said just yesterday that when she is preparing her “talk” for Susie’s Tuesday, she often finds that the verse the Lord gives her is the very Bible verse she needs to read and ponder herself. Your message today was that for me. Like others who have commented here, i find that i many times will procrastinate long enough that the ‘whatever’ is no longer important and i don’t need to respond. Here, though, you have put before me the very reason i need to respond, and often, and immediately. My heart breaks for what you are going through, but i marvel, yet again, at how the Lord knows what you need, when you need it. He’s like that. What can be more comforting than knowing that your best friend,Jesus, has your back covered. This friend is there too. Heartfelt prayers to you and your family.
    By His Grace.

    Reply
  6. Leary Gates

    Beautifully written Michele! It all starts with the “Stay here,” doesn’t it? Our pain slows us down and makes us even more aware of how quickly others are moving by us. Those who take the time to stop and stay are a gift. Love what you wrote and how you share what God’s teaching you in these times. May He continue to richly bless you.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Those two words are becoming such a rarity in our uber-fast, always moving world. The fallout from it is killing us, individually AND relationally. We thinking “stopping” is unproductive, but it’s often the most valuable thing we can do.

      Reply
  7. Rick Theule

    Michele – Your words have touched me again. I’m coming off a weekend high from a conference I attended in Tulsa. I spent 2+ days with many strangers. I became friends with them, but only as much as is possible in a few hours. Your words remind me to continue serving them even though I don’t truly know them.
    “Serve the needs of a stranger.”
    Indeed.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      It’s so easy to slip back into our schedules and busyness isn’t it? And yet if we do, we lose the sweetness of relationship. I admire your desire to keep serving, keep connecting, Rick.

      Reply
  8. Gina Edmond

    Michele – your words always find a way into my heart. Thank you for another beautiful article that reads like a prayer.

    My husband without a doubt has always been my rock through everything. However, when I found myself struggling with a past event from childhood that had gone unaddressed , finally acknowledging and processing everything about and around it, I was blessed to find support in my trainer.

    One weekend the negative emotions were running high. I shared what was going on with my trainer and while those 6 words were never spoken they were certainly heard and acknowledged. I reached out for an appointment for both Saturday and Sunday. He met and sat with me in the gym during a time when even a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror brought enormous pain. Training that weekend felt more like active prayer – working on my physical strength replenished my emotional strength. There is great power in being present with someone during grief. Forever thankful for the people God always puts in my path at the right time.

    Thank you again, Michele, for your beautiful message. Continued blessings to you!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      “There is great power in being present with someone during grief.” Yes, yes, yes. For both parties. Thank you for sharing a a difficult piece of your story. You honor us.

      Reply
  9. Nancy Reynolds

    Michele- Thank you for the courage it took to put your thoughts in writing. Your words spoke to me loudly. My father passed away while I was going through a difficult time. The most comforting person at his funeral spoke the words, “How can I comfort you?” This person was a new friend. She was the only person to voice such a sentiment with such sincerity. It meant the world to me. Since then, I’ve tried to live by words similar to the ones you expressed. Sometimes, although meaningful, an “our prayer out with you” gesture doesn’t encompass the support needed at a given moment of distress. Your message is a beautiful one, and I hope that many read and act upon it.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I love your friend’s question. Rather than assume what you needed, she simply took the time to ask. Thank you for sharing your story, Nancy.

      Reply
  10. scott

    What I have read here goes to show the power of our God and how he works his way into our lives to reveal his love! Times can be difficult, and trying, but the renewed friendships and exposure to others helps us to understand that putting others first will lead to a wonderous, but not necessarily easy, existence. The power of these six words enables the weak and humbles the mighty…putting on a strong face and pretending things are fine is quite often how I approach the day, but when asked how things are going, I often shutdown, withdraw, and most often burst into tears…with the worries of the world at hand, we need not only help and serve, but most of all, love! You and your family are in my thoughts! I thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  11. Lily Kreitinger

    That’s a double WHOA! God is touching so many lives through you, Michele! AWESOMENESS!

    Reply
  12. Tracee

    Just goodness right here. Such power in those words. They require nothing but just being where you and the other person are and that being ok.

    Reply
  13. Heather Thorpe

    Tears are streaming down my face….. I look at the bracelet I bought to remind me to pray that you would kick cancer…. and you did….. just 4 months ago…… I cry for joy that you must feed, I cry for the knowledge that we serve a GREAT and glorious God…… I currently have an uncle losing his battle with cancer as it tortures his body and tortures his loved ones as they watch…… I needed a story of hope and a story of the power of the God we serve….. thank you Michele, proud to call you friend!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I’m right there with you, overcome by the grace and mercy. Thank you for ALL the ongoing prayers, friend. So grateful.

      Reply

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