In 1985 James O’Donnell became a believer in Christ. As it does in most of us, this caused him to begin a reevaluation of his life. His desire to serve God more intentionally resulted in a major move and lifestyle change. In 1994, O’Donnell and his family left a beautiful home in the Boston suburbs, summer home in upstate New York and a successful career in the financial services business. They moved to Huntington, Indiana where he took a teaching position in a small Christian liberal arts college as well as an 80% pay cut.
We are often led to believe that making a noble sacrifice, such as this, will bring an abundance of God’s blessings. – A happy ever after story. Sacrifice, in keeping with His will, does bring blessings, but not always in the obvious ways that we expect. We are never guaranteed an easy life.
Within a few months after the move, O’Donnell’s wife Lizzie was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and given few months to live. The letters in Letters for Lizzie were written to about 200 friends and acquaintances back east, most of who did not share the O’Donnell’s faith, requesting prayer. This group grew into a prayer network of hundreds. Lizzie made it past a year, experienced serious complications from the cancer treatments and still lives.
The letters take the reader through some heart-wrenching times for the O’Donnell family, but as a reader, I was never left emotionally drained as I have been with some similar books. Instead, I was impressed and encouraged by the faith, courage and even the spiritual struggles that the letters reveal. They contain truths about God that perhaps can only be found by those who have reached down into the depths of despair and survived.
James O’Donnell has a very comfortable writing style that is easy to read and draws the reader on chapter after chapter. At the end of the book, O’Donnell gives tips that are invaluable for surviving as a caretaker. I recommend Letters for Lizzie to anyone struggling with serious illness and for the caretakers, for close friends of the seriously ill and for those on the outside looking in.
Two quotations from the book remain with me and impress me as something every Christian should remember. O’Donnell says;
“I wish other people – especially Christians – had a greater capacity to walk a bit further alongside the underclass of the chronically ill sufferers and their caregivers for whom closure doesn’t seem to exist.”
“Faith, character, and attitude in the sufferer and in the caregiver matter increasingly as time goes on – because as time goes on we fight alone.”
Letters for Lizzie:
A Story of Love, Friendship
and a Battle for Life