5 Questions About Walking With People in Pain

I roll over at zero dark thirty this morning in a hotel room in Hanoi to see a missed call on my cell phone. In my heart I know why. It was a call from the husband of my best friend from college. Patty was diagnosed with ALS (that horrific disease that gradually takes away your ability to speak, eat, move and breathe) 3 years ago. Last night she was healed and greeted in heaven where I’m sure she is having a blast. She always was a party waiting to happen. 

Patty was fun and funny and compassionate and wise, and had all-together the best laugh ever. God took her on an amazing life-journey where He used her to come alongside people in pain or resource counselors helping others in pain around the world wo were experiencing trauma. This picture was taken when our paths crossed in London. Patty had just come from Nigeria and was on her way to Turkey and then Azerbaijan. Crazy, eh? In a post 4 years ago, after this picture, I asked her 5 questions about helping people in pain. I’m posting it again today in her honor. IMG_6973

You have a background in counseling and social work.  How did you discover that God had given you gifts in this area? 

I didn’t discover this. My father was the one who recognized this for me.  He was diagnosed with cancer when I was 16 and treated for 9 years at MD Anderson in Houston, TX.  During that time, he got to know 2 Social Workers and shared with me that he thought I would like their job.  As I began studying this in college, it was the one subject that I made good grades in without a lot of work.

Upon graduation as I sought where God might want me to work I read:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Suddenly, it was like all the pieces of the puzzle were put together.  This was a job I could do well and God had created me this way because He knew the path my life would take. He had equipped me in ways I had not realized.  

2.  Can you share a story of a time when God used you beyond how you felt you were capable?

Always.  

But you asked for one.  

My family and I had moved to Papua New Guinea to serve with a nonprofit organization there.  I was a counselor in a community of over 300 ex-pat workers from over 14 different countries.  The students had gone on their annual retreat.  Early one morning, I received a phone call informing me that a 17-year-old girl had been gang raped by 3 Papua New Guinea men.  A helicopter would be bringing her back to our compound and I was to meet her with our doctor at the clinic. 

I was overwhelmed.  How could I help this young woman, her family and the youth on the retreat and then the entire community who would know that this event had taken place?  

I had not received any training that would prepare me for this type of scenario.  But I was the counselor there. I had to cling to God to provide the words I did not have. 

In looking back, I realize that God could have picked someone else who had experience in this but He didn’t.  He picked me with all my weaknesses.  He must have His reasons for doing that and I just need to show up.

3. What’s one lesson you’ve learned over the years about helping people in pain?

Bad things happen to good people. So much of the time I encounter well-meaning, really wonderful people who are experiencing really challenging things. There isn’t an easy explanation for this either.  Somehow telling people that ‘in all things God works for the good to those who love him’ just wasn’t helpful or appropriate.  The truth is that so much of the time the good seems very far away.  I had to learn to trust God even when I didn’t understand why things were happening in a certain way.

4. Even those of us who don’t have specific gifts in this area want to help friends who are hurting.  What are some mistakes you see people making?

People try to fix the other person’s problem when most of the time the best thing we can do for a friend is listen.  

People worry about saying the ‘right’ thing. Often there isn’t anything to be said. The best thing you can do is be there and stop thinking about you.

5. What advice do you have for those walking alongside others in crisis?

  • Listen, listen, listen.  
  • Ask questions to help them continue to tell their story… like ‘what happened, what was the hardest part for you, or what else happened’?
  • Don’t make judgments.  No one needs to hear that they are doing something wrong in the midst of their crisis.  
  • The process of telling their story will bring healing.  
I don’t know why Patty died at the time or in the way she did, but I know how she lived – with joy and compassion, honoring Jesus. I hope I can learn from her and do the same. 

3 Comments

  1. Karen Baumberger

    February 6, 2018 at 10:41 PM

    Laura, I am sorry you lost such a good friend. It is hard to understand Gods timing, but it is clear she touched many lives in a beautiful way using her God given gifts. Great is her reward in heaven!

    Thank you for posting and enjoy the wonderful memories of Patty.

    Karen

  2. It is so wonderful to ‘hear Patty’s voice’ as a tribute to her. She was such a dear friend to you, I am so sorry for your loss.

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