What NOT to Say to Someone Who’s Sick

photo-2014-05-28-17-34-06-25I just finished writing a birthday card to my sister Carina, who is going through, in my opinion, one of the most difficult trials a person can experience in life.  This year, her birthday will not be like what she had expected.  Rather than celebrating, probably at a nice restaurant with her husband and her precious 3-year-old son, she is on strict bed rest, only able to get up to use the restroom and not even able to sit up for too long.

What do you say to someone like her?  Someone who is going through physical and emotional pain?  What do you write on that birthday or get well card?  Or, another question would be: what do you not write or say?

As someone who has a chronic illness and often battles her own discouraging thoughts and emotions, I have been a recipient of many comforting and thoughtful messages from friends, family members, and mentors.  These messages have carried me through many trying days of fatigue and pain.  However, I have also been a recipient of words that were less than thought-through – words that were (usually) well-meaning, but ultimately were hurtful rather than helpful.

I do not hold these words against the people who spoke them.  In fact, I thank them for attempting to aid me in dark times.  The fact is that, if one has not been through a physical trial, it is impossible to truly empathize, and, as a result, trying to give comfort can end up having the opposite effect.

Maybe you have experienced what I have experienced.  Maybe you are currently in the midst of a physical trial like my sister.

Or maybe you are on the other side of things, knowing someone who is dealing with health issues and wanting desperately to bring comfort and peace.  However, as I implied earlier, words can be tricky, and you may not know what to say.  While I am not an expert counselor and I definitely have not had a perfect record when it comes to saying the right things, I have been on the receiving end of both uplifting and not-so-uplifting words during my continuous struggle with my diseases.  Therefore, I would like to help you come up with the appropriate words to say by giving you three general categories of what not to say to someone who’s sick.

 

Comments on Changes in Appearance/Lifestyle

When I was diagnosed with lupus in 8th grade, I had to take a medicine that made me gain weight.  I literally swelled up, especially around my face.  By the time my first semester of high school began, I became almost unrecognizable to my classmates who I had not seen all summer.  Most people just took a few seconds to overcome their initial shock.  There was that one boy, however, that shouted, “That’s Ophy?!”; and there was that one lady that asked, “Did you gain weight?!”…=p  You might be thinking, “I would never be that obvious or rude.”  And you are probably right, so here’s another example.

One of the symptoms of lupus is sun sensitivity, so I often carry an umbrella when I am outdoors.  I cannot count the number of times people have said to me, “Haha, you expecting rain?”  Now, they probably did not mean to make fun and were just curious as to why I would be using an umbrella in sunny 92° weather.  In fact, most of these people didn’t know that UV rays made me sick.  However, it is careless comments like these that make it really difficult for someone to not feel alone and even discontent.

Rather than making needless comments on changes in appearance or lifestyle, first determine whether or not it is wise to say anything at all.  Consider to whom you are addressing.  Is he/she a good friend with whom you can talk about sensitive and personal issues or is he/she just an acquaintance?  Also, ask yourself, “Would my comments be made out of a concern for this person or out of my own curiosity?”  If it is the latter, then it is best to not say anything.

 

Medical/Lifestyle Advice to “Fix” the Problem

I am sure we can all relate with the desire to fix a problem when we see it.  However, when it comes to health issues, it is easy to make suggestions or provide advice that are, quite frankly, unwanted and unhelpful.  For those of us who are sick, we know our physical limits and what we need to do to take care of ourselves (whether or not we actually do it is another matter), so comments like, “Make sure you get your rest” or “Try not to be too stressed” can be superfluous and wearisome.  Again, we understand that these statements are well-meaning, but the way they are said and the type of relationship one has with the sick person matter.

Furthermore, suggestions of alternative medicine and lifestyles can also be vexing.  There are so many alternative treatments and lifestyles, it is hard to keep track.  Your sick friend may or may not be ready to make such major changes.  He/she may also have tried so many of these other options without success that the thought of yet another change can be discouraging.  The best and only time to propose a different type of treatment or way of life is if you have personally and successfully tried it yourself.  If you can personally testify to its effectiveness and, in addition, are willing to take the time to support and guide your friend through this major change, then, by all means, provide the applicable information.  Just keep in mind that not everyone is willing or ready to do what you have done.

 

Trite Spiritual Remarks

As Christians, it is a joy and a comfort to be able to turn to biblical truths for support and guidance, and we often need a brother or sister to point us to those truths.  This is particular true in life’s most distressing moments.  However, we all need to be careful with exactly what we say and how we say it when attempting to present Scripture to a suffering person.  Off-the-cuff remarks like, “Trust in God” and “God is with you” can be stale and even frustrating for people who know these truths in their head but are still laboring to reconcile them with their condition in their heart.

An example of a time when I was blessed by someone bringing me spiritual truth was the day I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  I was overwhelmed with the fact that I had to deal with a second illness.  My friend and mentor called.  She asked if we could read through Scripture together, so she read various psalms while I cried.  She recognized that she couldn’t know how I felt but that she wanted to pray for me.  There were no trite spiritual remarks.  Her reading Scripture, praying for me, and letting me know that she was available whenever I needed someone to talk to were the actions that helped get me through that day.  Not only that, she followed through with her promise and visited with me on a day that I was feeling particularly unwell.

 


I pray that by writing this post, I have given you some insight into the heart of someone who is sick and how to help them.  It has been the most difficult post for me to write thus far, because of how I had to deal with my own hurt feelings and struggles in the past.  It is easy for me and others who are sick to feel bitter or angry towards those who have been careless with their words, but I know that God’s grace covers us all; and He has given me those specific interactions so that others may learn to use their words more purposefully when speaking to those who are ill.

I praise God for you, friends and family, who have the desire to encourage the fainthearted and to help the weak.  It is through you that God gives us, who are suffering, the strength to persevere and ultimately overcome our hardship.  Thank you.

– Ophelia

Too Busy to Write? 7 Easy Steps to Help You Find that Extra 15 Minutes

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Writing cards has become a lost art.  In today’s age of instant messaging, texts, emails, and tweets, we are used to the gratification of rapid information and communication.  So who takes the time to send snail mail anymore?  Who would choose to make the time to write out a note by hand over text messaging?  As we learned on our last post, we would!!!  The advantages of higher quality aesthetics, more intentional content, a bigger wow factor, and a more creative investment in your relationship make snail mail all worth it!

Now that we have figured that out, where do we find the time to actually write to someone?  In the middle of work, kids, spouse, chores, errands, and don’t forget – our quiet time with God, how do we make time to encourage someone in writing?

The fact is: 15 minutes can save you 15% on car insurance!…Wait, that wasn’t it…15 minutes can also allow you to write a card, address it, stamp it, and put it in the mailbox! – that is if you are an essay writer like me.

I must admit – I don’t have kids.  And my job is not a full-time gig.  So, in this stage of my life, I have more discretionary time than most people.  Nevertheless, time management is a must and its principles are the same whether you have zero kids or ten.  So here are 7 steps to help you find that 15 minutes in your day to write a card to someone you love.

1. Analyze how you spend your time.

We often don’t realize just how much time we spend on different things and how much time we actually waste.  It is hard to tell, because those minutes get away from us – a few minutes here checking Facebook, another minute there cutting split ends…ok, that might just be me… The point is that we need to first figure out how we are using our time before we can manage it.  The best way to do this is to keep a journal to record hours for everything you do from putting on make-up to cooking to playtime with your children.  Journal for at least three days, and you will be amazed at how much time is unaccounted for!

2. Keep your priorities.

Keep the first thing first, namely your spiritual walk with God.  We cannot encourage and love others as God fully intended if we do not seek encouragement from Him or love Him as we should.  Therefore, make it your number one priority of the day to read His Word and to pray to Him.

3. Make a to-do list.

Lists! Lists! Lists!  I love them!  They keep me sane.  If not for lists, I would be spending most of my time trying to remember what it is that I forgot to do.  Instead, they help free up my mind to think on more important things like actually how to accomplish what I need to do.  There are two tricks to a to-do list, however.  The first is to be realistic.  We can’t write down 100 items and expect that we will get them done just by writing them down.  Be selective about what you take on for that day.  Say no to someone or something if necessary.  The second trick to a to-do list is to be flexible.  Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”  Our to-do list might not be what God had in mind, so go with the flow when He decides to let you know.

Besides a to-do list, you can also compile a to-write list.  Think about all the people that could use a nice surprise in the mail today.  It could be someone on your prayer list or someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.  Keep the list by your desk or on your fridge and make a point to cross off those names each time you put send them a card.

4. Set goals.

Now that you have penned, “Write a card” on your to-do list.  You have to set specifics.  What time of the day will you be writing the card?  To whom will you be writing to (going back to the to-write list)?  Will you be just writing one card or multiple cards?  Do you want to make writing a card a weekly thing?  Or how about a monthly thing?  What about setting the goal of writing 2 cards within one month?  Or the more ambitious goal of writing one card per day for 7 days?

5. Do the task you like least first.

Don’t procrastinate!  I learned a long time ago that tackling the task you like least before all other tasks will make your day go much quicker and more efficiently.  By getting the worst item out of the way, we look forward to the rest of our day more and, as a result, we do not drag out other tasks to postpone the one we dread.  Voilà!  An extra 15 minutes just appeared out of thin air!

6. Organize tasks/errands by proximity.

Grouping your tasks or errands by their locations is a surefire way to make more time for yourself.  Instead of walking up and down the stairs 10 times a day or driving in all different directions, streamline your to-do list by doing the items that are located close to each other one after another or together.  If there is a task that can be done anywhere, like writing a card, make a purpose to do it when the opportunity reveals itself.  Examples of opportune moments would be waiting at the doctor’s office or during your 15-minute break at work.

7. Keep a routine.

Keeping a routine as much as possible allows us to be more efficient as we get used to that routine.  Less time is lost in between tasks, and less time is wasted in thinking of what to do next.  Just like your to-do list, however, your routine should be realistic and flexible.  Test out what works and what doesn’t.  By the time you figured it out, you will find that extra 15 minutes to do something nice for someone else.

– Ophy –

Snail Mail Vs. Email: the Pros and Cons of a Lost Art

The new stamps we bought!

The new stamps we bought!

When was the last time you put something in your mailbox or dropped off a letter at the post office?  Probably a while ago, right?  If not, good for you!  However, in today’s age of instant messaging, texts, emails, and tweets, most people’s only reason to use the postal service is to mail out a check.  Sadly, sending hand-written letters or cards have become a lost art.

But I am here to convince you to pick up the pen, because the advantages of snail mail far outweigh its downfalls.

To prove this to you, I am going to employ the time-proven tool of teenage girls who go through the agonizing decision-making process of whether or not to like a boy – the pros and cons table.


SNAIL MAIL

Pros   Cons
Aesthetics: You have the fun privilege of choosing the card or stationery design!   Price: Cost of envelope, paper, and pen, plus $0.49 for postage.
     
Content: Studies show that handwriting heightens brain activity in regions active in creative thinking, language, and memory (“How Handwriting Trains the Brain”by Gwendolyn Bounds, The Wall Street Journal).  You are also less likely to get distracted when writing (“4 Benefits of Writing By Hand”by Chris Gayomali, The Week).   Speed: It’s slower to handwrite, and it takes 1-3 days for delivery.
 
The Wow Factor: Don’t tell me that receiving a pretty envelope with a pretty stamp in the mail doesn’t excite you!  Also, the sense of touch (and even smell – ooh la la!) can heighten your friend’s emotions.  How do you think retailers get you to buy?  😉
 
Emotional Investment: The time and thought you invest in picking out a card and handwriting your note are automatically conveyed the moment your friend sees your name on the return address label.
 

EMAIL

Pros   Cons
Price: Cost of internet, which you can get for free at the library   Aesthetics: Typically, there is no aesthetics other than font style…and even that is limited.
     
Speed: It’s quicker to type, and delivery is immediate.   Content: You are more likely to get distracted and not write as well.
   
  The Wow Factor: …non-existent
   
  Emotional Investment: You might invest time in constructing the email and typing it out, but it just doesn’t send the same message…

Don’t get me wrong.  Technology is useful.  I use them quite often.  There is always a right time to send a quick text or post an uplifting comment on a wall or write a reassuring email.  But think back to the last time you received snail mail – that special feeling you got when you opened your mailbox and found that someone was thinking about you, took the time to pick out a unique card, and made the effort to handwrite a note of encouragement to you…nothing can replace that.

Proverbs 15:23 says,

“A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word!”

Send someone snail mail today!

In Numbers: Two is Better Than One

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“Two is Better Than One” Thank You Card

Ps.133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

When I (Ophelia) first read this verse, the person that immediately came to my mind was my best friend Grace Yang.  The two of us are 2 peas in pod, BFFs, bosom buddies!  We were joined at the hip – that is, until I moved away.  But even still, the distance could not weaken the bond we have.  Not simply because we understand each other or even love each other, but because we love Jesus Christ.

To give you a peak into our friendship, we decided to interview both Grace and yours truly as the final segment of our In Numbers Interview Series.   Thankfully, Grace didn’t embarrass me too much!  =D


 

Grace and me at one of our good friend's Kentucky Derby themed bridal shower!

Grace and me at one of our good friend’s Kentucky Derby themed bridal shower!

IP: Who is your best best best bestest friend ever?!  ;D  And how did you meet?

G: My best best best bestest friend ever is Ophelia (Ophy) Dunk. We met when I was 5 and she was 3 in Hong Kong, where she is from. Our dads were roommates at National Taiwan University studying to be dentists, and we were in Hong Kong for a dental reunion. It wasn’t until Ophy moved to Los Angeles a few years later when we became best friends. To this day, our dads are still very close friends and serving at the same church.

O: She is Grace Yang, and she is the most understanding and patient woman I know.

IP: What do you think makes you two connect so well?

G: We love Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is by His grace that we are sisters in Christ and desire to love, serve, and sharpen one another. Over the past 25 years, we have shared in the greatest joys and deepest trials. Most of my memories since childhood include Ophy in them. Through it all, we have been there for each other to point to God’s sovereignty, goodness, and care towards us in every detail of life.

O: I echo what Grace said.  She and I knew each other since we were itty-bitty, so our spiritual walks alongside each other have been long, sometimes difficult, but mostly joyous ones.  Together, God called us to salvation, built up our understanding of Him, and grew our love for Him.  It is through our belief in the same Savior Jesus Christ that we have developed such a strong connection.

IP: Tell our readers a funny story of you two.

G: Hmmm… where to start?? There are experiences better left unmentioned. =) But I distinctly remember sitting in the backseat of her Mom’s car driving to various church functions, each holding a huge bowl of cut melons and secretly eating the melons the whole way to church, only to cover up the dent we made before getting out of the car. This happened on numerous occasions. Maybe that’s why I’m now allergic to all melons. It must be punishment for eating too many melons. However, I can still live vicariously through Ophy as she gets to eat them still!

O: As I attempt to remember a funny story of the two of us, I keep thinking of funny stories of just Grace!  Haha!  But I won’t divulge those here, since she could have chosen one of my numerous embarrassing moments to share with ya’ll.  =D  Let’s see…one Sunday after church, on my 12th or 13th birthday, I found myself alone and abandoned by Grace and my other friends.  Everyone had left without a word!  I was furious.  To make things worse, my mom comes up to me and tells me that she has to make a Costco run and I was stuck going with her!  Throughout the entire Costco trip, I was fuming.  By the time we left Costco, though, I was exhausted from the church activities of the day and, apparently, my indignation.  So, I fell asleep in the car.  I am not sure how long my family and friends let me sleep in the garage, but when I finally woke up and walked into the house, all my friends and family were waiting for me!  This whole time, Grace and my sister were throwing me a surprise birthday party!…  And there goes my indignation.  =}

IP: How has your friendship been different since Ophelia moved away?

G: Since Ophy has moved away, our friendship has continued to grow and strengthen by God’s grace. I miss her a lot, and there are definitely times when I miss her a lot more than usual, especially when I have a tough day and can’t just drive over to her place to talk it out or just cry on her shoulder. Even though we don’t get to see each other as often, when we do catch up over the phone or Skype, we can easily pick up from our last conversation and keep going.

O: The long distance and time difference have required us to make a greater effort to keep in touch.  We definitely had to adjust at the beginning.  It is a lot more difficult now to find times to talk that match both our schedules.  This challenge forces us to work harder at our friendship. I think it is a blessing in disguise though, because (1) it is that much sweeter when we do see each other face-to-face and (2) it keeps us from taking our friendship for granted.

IP: How have both of your relationships with Christ influenced your friendship?

G: Christ has taught me to love and forgive. Since He loves me, I am to love others with Christ’s love, with patience, kindness, and a quickness to forgive. As we grow in our love and worship of Jesus Christ, we are better able to love and care for one another. God has taught me to trust Him no matter where He takes us in life, whether as roommates or all the way across the nation. My friendship with Ophy is truly a blessing and encouragement. I am forever thankful that I get to share this life with one of the most gentle and humble women I know. What an evidence of God’s grace.

O: Being so close to someone provides many opportunities to practice the “one another” commands of the Bible, sometimes even without realizing it.  Encourage one another (1 Thes.4:18; 5:11).  Show hospitality to one another (1 Pet.4:9).  Teach one another (Col.3:16).  Admonish one another (Col.3:16).  Exhort one another (Heb.3:13).  Seek to do good to one another (1 Thes.5:15).  Stir up one another to love and good works (Heb.10:24).  Confess your sins to one another (Jms.5:16).  Pray for one another (Jms.5:16).  Forgive one another (Eph.4:13).  Bearing with one another in love (Eph.4:2).  Serve one another (Gal.5:13; 1 Pet.4:10).  Comfort one another (2 Cor.13:11).  Love one another (Rom.12:10; 1 Pet.1:22).

Of course, both of us have failed numerous times at this, but learning from the forgiving character of our Savior has spurred us to forgive one another and come out of the situation closer than before.  And when we do not fail, when God gives us the grace to live together in unity…Boy!  We do feel blessed!  


For me, our “Two is Better than One” card was designed with Grace in mind.  Do you have a Grace in your life?  How often do you sit and ponder the gift that is her?  More importantly, how often do you tell her that you appreciate her?  Don’t wait!  Tell her!  Text, email, call, or write.  Whichever method you choose, your friend will be grateful.

Close to Your Heart: A Mother’s Influence

 

"Close to Your Heart" Mother's Day Card

“Close to Your Heart” Mother’s Day Card

“My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.  Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck.  When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you.” – Proverbs 6:20-22

A mother’s influence on her children is matchless.  Our inspiration passage talks about how her teachings should be cherished – held close to one’s heart as well as lived out – as if adorned around one’s neck.  John MacArthur comments in his study Bible on how binding something to our heart and tying it around our neck means letting it “become a part of us – outwardly in our behavior for all to see as an adornment of spiritual beauty, and inwardly as the subject of our meditation” (notes on Proverbs 3:3; 6:20-21, 22).  Maffrine and I just love this imagery and its meaning!

This is how we came up with the design for our Mother’s Day card.  The charming necklace, set on top of a chalkboard backdrop, serves as an elegant yet fun way to tell our mothers that they and their teaching are valuable to us, similar to how jewelry can be valuable.

Maffrine "wearing" the necklace

Maffrine “wearing” the necklace

The card is designed such that you and/or your mom can “wear” the necklace!  For this Mother’s Day, hold the necklace close to your heart and adorn it on your neck!  Take a picture and post it on our FB page with a comment on something that you have learned from your mom!  This card is meant to express not only the beauty of a mother’s influence but also its significance to her son or daughter, so why not express it not only to your mother but to the world?!  You don’t have to do this with just your mother.  This card can be for your grandmother, your mother-in-law, and even your spiritual mothers – women who have served as mentors in your life.

To voice our love for our mothers this Mother’s Day, we would like to share with you one teaching that our mothers passed on to us (and a few wedding photos)!

Maffrine: My mother passed onto me how to be a good steward of my resources.  She is the thriftiest person I know, and I learn from her example.

Maffrine and her mom on her wedding day

Maffrine and her mom on her wedding day

Ophelia: One of the things I admire most about my mom is her generosity.  She is always giving of her time, money, and energy.  Watching her continually give of herself always convicts me and inspires me to be more selfless like her.

My mom and I on my wedding day

My mom and I on my wedding day

So what have you learned from your mother?  =D