One of cancer's greatest challenges may be losing your job and going on disability. Having to let go of work and take a medical leave may be scarier than the disease itself. You may find yourself wondering what to do with your time. While the transition takes away a lot, it also gives you more time to invest in loving others better.
I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer on September 1, 2017. Somehow, I kept working, “pedal to the metal,” for the next twenty-two months. I thought I was doing great, handling my job well, maybe even more effective than ever. Others disagreed. Consequently, on June 1, 2019, with mixed feelings, I started medical leave.
During that time, I pondered what to do with my life. With no meetings (Hallelujah), no sermons to write, and no one to visit, I had more time on my hands than ever. I also felt good physically and mentally. And then, just five weeks after leaving my job, I got my first cancer free scan. Apparently, the Lord had more for me to do. But what?
I spent several hours daily writing and working on my book, How Cancer Cured Me. But that left a lot of time. Some suggested working at a soup kitchen. I contemplated volunteering at the cancer clinic or teaching a Bible study. Heck, I could sell cars. Despite the endless possibilities, nothing grabbed me. The Sunday after my cancer-free report, I attended a worship service at a nearby church. After an amazing time of worship and a surprisingly superb sermon, the pastor called the congregation to “circle up” with a few people nearby for a time of prayer. As we spoke our praises and petitions, I heard the Lord say, “Go, help your dad.” It was an ah-ha moment. Maybe more of a “well duh” moment. My dad needed my help. Between building his dream home, maintaining two homes for sale, and owning and running a business, he never had enough time. For years, he needed to clone himself. He needed Michael David Gira, Jr.—me. Right away, I answered the Lord’s call. I helped with his business as I could. I cut grass, trimmed, and edged his yards. I painted, installed replacement windows and cabinet hardware, installed light fixtures, nailed missing wood to the bulkhead. Did whatever I could to help.
I spent last week at my dad’s home in Bath, NC. It’s a beautiful home, overlooking the Pamlico River and St. Clair’s creek. It’s stunning, but like all homes, it requires lots of work. During my stay, I completed one of the most needed and time-consuming repairs - rebuilding the deck’s landing and reinforcing and replacing a few steps. I surprised my dad and, honestly, myself.
Over the past year of medical leave, I have gotten closer to my dad. While we have worked, we’ve had time to be together and talk. Many of these conversations have been special and unforgettable. I’ve learned more about my dad and been reminded how great he is. In many ways, his love for me has been re-affirmed.
More importantly, helping has enabled me to show my dad how much I love and appreciate him. “Acts of service” is my Dad’s love language. Every nail driven, yard mowed, project completed – it all says, “I love you, Dad!” During my medical leave, which has now been a year, I’ve also seized the opportunity to spend more time, not just with my wife and kids, but trying to love them to the best of my ability. It’s been a very fruitful time. For all of this, I thank God.
Enough about me. What about you? Let me suggest the following.What about you? Who can you focus on loving well? Your spouse, children, mom, dad, siblings? Maybe there’s a friend, neighbor, or someone else? Chances are more than one person would be blessed by your affection. Ask God to reveal those persons to you.
Now, go a step further and ask yourself: How can I love them better? What can I do? Maybe it’s an obvious need. Something you already know. Or ask the Divine to bring to your mind something specific.
I’m a big believer in Gary Chapman’s five love languages. The idea is each of us best receives love in one of five ways. Review these languages of love as listed below and the prompts. Determine which language belongs to the person you desire to love better, and then discern your next steps.
Acts of service
What can you do? (How can you help? If you WERE their servant —butler, maid, whatever - what would they ask you to do? Go ahead and do it.
What’s something they’d like? It doesn’t have expensive. Did you see something that they’d like to have? Wow, my mom would love that! Buy it. Wrap it up pretty and give it to them. You don’t have to wait for Christmas. Give it today. Just because…
Clear your schedule. Give them some of your best time, prime time. Make a date. Do something together. Facetime, Zoom, make the call.
Words of Affirmation
Tell them what you admire, appreciate, see in them, believe in them.
Give a Hug, a pat on the back, a high five. Hold hands. If you’re married, make time for intimacy with your partner. Kiss them on lips. Do you remember when? If you still aren’t sure, just ask them. How can I show you how much I love you?
You may not need medical leave. But if you should, or you find yourself out of work, or suddenly have more time on your hands than you know how to use, don’t be alarmed or feel hopeless. Embrace the opportunity as time for loving others well.
Do it. Say it. Take the time. Give the gift. Make it physical. Love your best, and you'll be blessed!
To learn more about how cancer positively impacted me and my relationships, and what God can do in your life, check out my book How Cancer Cured Me. It will be published on August 25. You can purchase it in advance, using this link: https://amzn.to/2ZBN9J0.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34, NIV