[with so many folks i know having some sort of encounter or dealings w/cancer, i was reminded of this story the Lord led me to write about a wonderful lady i knew for a short while during my second ministry]
When embarking on a new ministry venture, one is often met with a barrage of names to remember and family connections to discover. Sometimes, some names catch one’s attention and invite a heart into a new friendship, filled with inspiration and blessing. This special kind of journey, obviously guided by the Lord, became a portion of my history when He called me to serve Him in a small, south-central Illinois town of approximately one thousand people.
Nearly every Sunday of that first month in November of 1991, a particular name was mentioned among the prayer requests. “Pray for Olive.” “Let’s remember our Olive.” “Olive’s going back to Zion tomorrow. Pray for her.” Her name was voiced with such warmth, almost a sigh, as if whoever said it was reflecting on a wonderful blessing. Esteem, respect, gratitude, and love were conveyed by the ones who just spoke her name, whether in conversation or in prayer. Several described Olive as a mighty “prayer warrior” herself, her deep faith in the Lord being known and called upon by folks in the church family and community.
Though having repeatedly heard her name, I had not met Olive. I was told that I “must meet this lady.” On a couple of Sunday mornings, I caught a glimpse of someone that I guessed was Olive; but when I’d try to catch up to her after the service, she would already be out the door. (I was told that she was trying to avoid catching any illness that might be in the air.) Eventually, an opportunity came for me to visit Olive at her home in January. A friend and I called ahead to “okay” the visit. Finally, a face came together with a name! What I had sensed when others said her name became vivid as we fellowshiped together–what a wonderful visit!
Yet, it’s her eyes I remember best…
That first conversation included the two of us who had stopped in, Olive’s daughter, and Olive. Occasionally, Olive would turn in my direction, and while gazing directly at me would speak about her Lord. A fire seemed to burn inside her, compelling her to exhort and spur others on toward a closer walk with Christ. Her love for Him was clearly and boldly exhibited. She’d learned that another dear friend of hers and I had, just the week prior to this visit, begun to meet weekly to pray and share scripture together. Olive stressed to me how important it is for us who are young to develop the discipline of prayer now and never to forsake it. She spoke further on prayer and humbly described her own conversations with our Father. Before we could depart from her home, she asked that we join hands and pray together. . . . What a wonderful visit to God’s throne room as we stood there with His daughter Olive that day!
Eyes–intense, full of determination and amazement…
The next time I saw Olive was one Sunday evening when she’d been strong enough to come worship with the church family. (Olive was about a year and a half into a battle with a rare form of breast cancer. The chemotherapy treatments she received at the American International Hospital in Zion, Illinois, left her tired and weak much of the time.) This may have been late January or early February. I had been hoping to see her because the Lord had given me a passage of scripture to share with her. He’d helped me to illustrate Isaiah 43:1-5 as something to encourage her with assurance of His presence with her through whatever fire or flood she faced. Following our brief visit that evening, she made a return trip to the hospital in Zion. Another servant of God visited her there and wanted to share a few verses from the Bible with her. They were the very words which hung by her bed on a homemade poster! What evidence of how God tends to His lambs!
Eyes–alert, interested, caring…
Early in March, while Olive lay in bed at the American International Hospital, she and I conversed on the telephone. We were discussing my doctor’s most recent diagnosis of a lump in my right breast that had been discovered in November. Because it had slightly grown, my doctor wanted to go ahead and remove it. Olive strongly urged me to consult with a surgeon to whom she had first gone. She said that I would probably like him and would even want him to do the biopsy. She fervently prayed for me…. And God heard, as He always does when His children speak to Him. He answered her prayers with a removal of the lump and no trace of malignancy. I realize now that for those five months, from detection to removal, God allowed me to identify with Olive a little, to help me understand the faith needed when the unexpected and beyond-our-control things enter our bodies and lives.
Eyes–closed in prayers of intercession…
The day of a vocabulary exam in my seminary Greek class in April brought forth a busy morning. I had gotten up very early in order to meet a teenage friend, from a former youth ministry, at a hospital nearby where she was to have inner ear surgery. As I returned to school, I felt led to stop in for a visit with Olive at her parent’s home along the way. This was when I first met her mother and father. Olive was awake, sitting up, waiting for the nurse to come unhook her from the machine she needed overnight. After a few moments of visiting, in which she also encouraged me concerning the exam I was soon to take, she requested that we pray together. We went hand-in-hand before our Father’s throne to express our thanks, then our needs, hopes, and desires we poured out into His awaiting hands. When we had finished, she walked me to the door, where she could see the new car with which the Lord had recently blessed me. She adamantly encouraged me to drive carefully; and she assured me that her prayers would include me as I took the Greek exam.
Eyes–joyful, hopeful, expectant…
June was the next time I saw Olive, while she was in the hospital and I was on vacation in Zion, Illinois. Saturday night’s visit was short because she was very tired. She wanted us to pray together. During the prayer her weariness drew her into a peaceful nap. After saying “Amen,” I continued to hold her hand as I looked upon her closed eyes, reflecting back on the months which had passed since we’d first met. During this recollection, Olive’s husband returned to the room and we enjoyed a visit for the first time.
Eyes–sleepy, tired, yet piercing…
Sunday’s visit included Olive’s mother. Strength and movement had returned to Olive’s right hand after a period of loss. Therapy had assisted this. We chatted about her grandson, about a special stranger I’d met that morning, and about many other topics. Olive was tired from the effects of the chemotherapy she was receiving regularly. I said that I needed to leave and began to stand when Olive stated, “–not without prayer.” So, the three of us in the room joined hands and conversed with our Father together.
On Monday I arrived just as her supper did. Our prayer that evening included thanksgiving for the food as well as for Olive. Because of the renewed strength in her right hand and arm, Olive was able to hold and drink of her favorite milkshake (strawberry) without assistance. Watching her mother carefully feed Olive revealed to me a picture of what Jesus meant when He said, “When I was sick, you visited Me. When I was hungry, you gave Me food.” Being there with Olive was, in reality, being there with our Lord Jesus. That night when I departed, my eyes met Olive’s eyes. They seemed to silently reach out.
Eyes–reaching, longing, seeking…
Tuesday brought the long-awaited trip home for Olive. This was the first day I’d met her sister, who had driven Olive’s van to Zion. Since this was the day I had planned to return home, Olive’s mother had suggested that I follow them. That’s what I chose, and I arrived at the hospital just as Olive’s medicines and vitamins were being rounded up. A lunch of fruit and salad was delivered for Olive before she headed homeward. When everything was ready and her sister had driven the van to the front door, the hospital personnel wheeled Olive out and helped her into the back of her van. (Anyone could tell this was hers, because the personalized license plates read, “OLIVE W 1,” or “Olive won!” Indeed, she has won!)
Not far out of town, Olive’s sister pulled to the side of the road. Olive needed to be moved upward on her mattress so as to be more comfortable. The Lord gave me the privilege of ministering to Olive by lifting her body further up on her pillows where she’d be able to rest better. I climbed out of the van, was ready to shut the door, when I saw her eyes again. I felt them peer deeply into me. It was difficult to tell…Was it me her eyes were fixed upon, or was it the picture of Jesus upon my shirt? What were her eyes saying?
Once more, near home, we stopped. Olive needed some personal assistance, and then we were on our way again. Yet, before we had resumed our traveling, her eyes met mine once again–if only they could have spoken! Little did I know then, that that gaze was the last one Olive and I would share. Perhaps within her silent stare was a fervent prayer for this heart, for which she had often previously prayed.
Eyes–Oh! to have eyes which can see Jesus in others! to see in others the potential, yet undiscovered by themselves, but perceived by spirit-filled eyes and prayed for by a committed heart!
“Olive-eyes”–more than a color, rather, a character, a personality, an extension of the compassionate eyes of Christ….Jesus said, “When I was sick, you visited Me and looked after Me.” Perhaps, when looking into Olive’s eyes pierced my heart so deeply, I was seeing beyond human eyes and seeing those of my Lord and her Lord.
It’s her eyes I’ll remember best!
[On July 6, 1992, Olive Willis received ultimate healing from her Lord in answer to many prayers on her behalf and of her own. After two struggling years of refining, Olive received the goal of her faith. Now she is home free! Olive won!]
Perhaps, when looking into Olive’s eyes pierced my heart so deeply, I was seeing beyond human eyes and seeing those of my Lord and her Lord.