Time Well Spent

Terry Lieb God Finds, Living out your Faith 7 Comments

In the last few years, I’ve become increasingly conscious that my days here are finite. As we age it seems that this gift of time seems to slip through our fingers more quickly each day. Consequently, I am becoming more and more cautious, selective, and to some degree selfish as to where I am willing to invest it.  I carefully plan my schedule so I can concentrate on the things that are really important to me, especially spending time with my family and friends.

Not long ago, I had another jam-packed weekend planned. Some of the things on my to-do list were absolute “musts,” like the house cleaning and yard work we hadn’t been able to get to for two or three weeks that couldn’t be put off any longer since we had friends coming to visit on the coming Tuesday! We also planned to go for a ride on our quadracycle along Rita’s favorite rails-to-trails above Hamburg, a trip we had been looking forward to for a few weeks.

On Sunday morning, the day of the ride, two close friends of mine, a husband and wife, called, quite distraught. His sister was fighting a losing battle with cancer, on hospice, and had at best a few days left. He and his wife had contacted several of their clergy friends asking if they would do some kind of session with the family but because of Covid, vacations, and schedule conflicts, no one was available. Since her health was so precarious, they felt the family needed to gather as soon as possible, even that day, if it all possible.

Then came the question I didn’t anticipate, “Would you consider doing it Terry?”

My heart sank. I certainly felt their strong sense of urgency, BUT Rita and I had our day packed with both had-to-do’s and want-to-do’s! My first thought was I can’t possibly do this. I’d met my friend’s sister only once, briefly, a few weeks earlier when she was in the midst of her chemotherapy. And I’m not a clergy, but just a deacon!  Certainly I wasn’t qualified, I reasoned. I was searching for an excuse, some possible escape plan.

Then the small voice, that I have come to recognize and name my “sneaky” God, said, “I have given you the gift of time in order that you will seek out opportunities to give it to others.” Suddenly my to-do list completely reordered itself!

My first goal was listening to my two close friends, the woman’s brother and sister-in-law, to find out what they and the family wanted when we gathered. They basically wanted to have someone provide structure and lead a gathering of family and friends in which they could express how much they loved her, say their good-byes, and give her permission to transition.

Despite the fact that the family members had various levels of involvement in the formal church, my friends felt those in attendance would be comfortable with and appreciate my reading scripture, sharing a few words, and breaking bread together.

I agreed to do what I referred to as a “family transition gathering” for all of them to acknowledge that this person, whom they dearly love, is transitioning from this earthly life to life with God.

A few hours later, I arrived at the very modest home where the couple had lived most of their married life and was greeted by two large aging Basset Hounds who somehow managed to stand up from their comfortable beds in the dining area to receive me. They welcomed me with huge floppy ears and sad eyes. Similar to the eyes of the folks who were there.

I talked with the woman’s husband, who is a rather quiet and reserved man I hadn’t met before, and he was on board with everything we suggested, including the communion, which he said he remembered taking in the church he attended as a child.

They had arranged the hospital bed in front of a large window in the living room. Although the woman was in and out of awareness, she certainly appeared cognizant during my time there. At one point as I held her hand and spoke with her, she looked at me square in the face and, to everyone’s amazement, asked what that orange thing was behind my neck? When I explained it was a creative adjustment apparatus which allowed me to wear a mask without wrapping the elastic behind my ears, she actually appeared to understand.

I started by explaining why we were gathering and what we had planned. I opened with a portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans and his very clear statement that nothing, absolutely nothing—not even death—can separate us from God‘s love! I shared a little about the God I was getting to know and experience each day, a God who chose to come to us through Jesus in an all-out effort to convince us of how deeply and unconditionally we are loved.

I prayed briefly and then asked those present, who chose to, to share with their loved one whatever they felt was important for her to know at this point in her journey.

Each person‘s individual sharing with the patient varied; all were quite powerful for me. The husband was amazingly honest and open as he attempted to convey to his wife of many years how much he appreciated their life together and how much he loved her. He did share one regret, that he wished they would’ve had more children (they have one son) and she responded, “I agree. We should’ve had five!”

Unsurprisingly, several people mentioned her unique sense of humor in the qualities they appreciated about her! Everyone present, family and friends, chose to hold her hand, put a hand on her head, and share what she had meant to them. Yes, there was a lot of “brusting” (Pennsylvania Dutch for crying) but there was also some smiling and laughter as some spoke of the “clown” in the family!

When everyone was finished sharing, I offered anyone who wished to do so to receive the bread and “wine” (my friends had brought grape juice since several of those in attendance were in recovery). I explained that communion was a way for us to acknowledge and celebrate our God’s clear proclamation through the example of Jesus what pure unconditional love really is and to accept that gift into ourselves.

To my surprise, every single person chose to participate. After everyone was finished and everything had been put away, out of nowhere, the patient asked, “Why didn’t you give me the grape juice also? I want some grape juice!” She adamantly insisted on receiving some grape juice…now! When she had only been taking water through an eyedropper for days, this was quite a powerful request!

Throughout the experience—and even remembering it afterwards—I would often be moved to tears. No doubt part of it was what it brought up for me in terms of what I would face myself someday. It raised the reality of my own death at some point, but much more devastating was this much younger man saying goodbye to his wife. Would I have to face that unimaginable task one day? That afternoon I committed to letting Rita know how much she meant to me on a much more regular basis.

But maybe another part of it was beginning to understand and appreciate the gift I was given when I was invited into that very intimate time and experience with a family I hardly knew? Is it possible to become part of a family you knew very little about in just one hour prior and experience grief, loss and pain as if you knew them for years? In that brief time together, the dying woman became my sister and this grieving family became my family!

After I got home, I saw an ad that seemed to be a message meant specifically for me. It said, “Your time is valuable. Share it.”

IMG_1740The invitation into this intimate family gathering evolved into yet another transformational experience that I can’t fully explain on paper or in words. I had hoped the gathering would be helpful and possibly somewhat healing for all present but I certainly didn’t expect it would shake my foundation to the extent that it did!

Somehow I felt my understanding of this gift of time beginning to transform. Does time given away or shared actually become more valuable because of what transpires in the process? In sharing ourselves and just being present for others we add quality and depth into our life journey we can’t fully appreciate. Could this be the hope of our sneaky God?



  • We often tend to avoid emotionally intense and painful experiences. Have you found blessings and/or deepened relationships when you have shared painful experiences with others? Afterwards, were you glad to have been with them through it?
  • Have you ever been present as someone transitions from this life? What was that like for you?
  • Have you ever experienced a transitioning gathering? If so, what was it like? Would you be interested in having one for yourself? Why or why not?
  • How often do you contemplate your own death? How does it make you feel? What does it bring up for you?
  • If you knew you had only a short time to live, how would that affect how you spend the time you had left? Are there any changes you would make then that you would benefit from making now?
  • Do you let your loved ones know on a regular basis how much you appreciate them and what specifically you love about them? If not, what is holding you back? How could you do this more often?
  • Do you allow unexpected events to interrupt your schedule? What “interruptions” have you experienced that ended up being opportunities in disguise? How many do you think you have missed?


Banner photo by Morgan Housel on unsplash.com




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July 8, 2022 12:39 pm

Terry, that was a powerful message. After my wife died 7 years ago, I have often thought what could I have done to make her life better. Many things come to mind, but I no longer have those opportunities. Each of us must decide to take the time to share with others before it’s too late.

Suzanne Barron
Suzanne Barron
July 8, 2022 2:00 pm

What a heart-wrenching but beautiful experience, Terry. I am so glad you pushed yourself to change your schedule. I can hardly imagine the comfort that family felt in that time of sharing.

July 8, 2022 2:13 pm

Thanks for this Terry. As one who has dealt with death so many times, each time I am reminded of our finite existence on this planet and how much those who have passed meant to me and, still do. I look back and think about those relationships and I don’t think I could have done any more. Still, I think about it. So, as I have been taught years ago, I will at times say a prayer to those deceased letting them know how much I still care. Your cousin, Kathy

July 8, 2022 9:53 pm

An absolutely beautiful post, on so many levels❤️Thank you for sharing, Terry. We are truly God’s Hands and Feet in this world

James Buskirk (Jim)
James Buskirk (Jim)
July 9, 2022 8:53 am

Terry, Thank you for sharing this deeply personal account.

David Kuntz
David Kuntz
July 9, 2022 12:28 pm

It’s really interesting I was just dealing with the feelings grief and loss even though I haven’t lost anything over the last few weeks so this post is really helpful. Thank you terry. I get so wrapped up in things that seem unimportant in retrospect. But it’s hard for me to continue to remind myself. Thich Naht Hahn has been somebody that’s been helpful to me so I looked for something he wrote and found this one that was helpful. “ The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” I… Read more »

Dave Evans
Dave Evans
July 15, 2022 11:11 am

As so often happens with Terrys post, I have an immediate reaction and then later a Gospel story will take me back for additional reflection! I was reminded this morning as I read the Mary/Martha story from Luke:10 that we are continually challenged, sometimes day to day, on how we choose to prioritize our time. When I served as a volunteer with No One Dies Alone , prior to Co-Vid, sitting with those who were dying and at times their families, we often shared such intimate moments with people we did not know. You begin to appreciate your own mortality… Read more »