One of the greatest blessings is to see how over time God is working behind the scenes to bring people into our lives to meet our needs, even when we are unaware. A part of my responsibilities at Merry Maids is selecting speakers for our annual convention. Through the years I’ve met a number of professional speakers, some whom you might recognize, but none like Barbara Glanz. I first spoke to Barbara on the phone in April of 2001. From that initial conversation, I was drawn to her warm and caring personality. I could sense she deeply loved God even without her mentioning it. On our next call, I asked if she was a Christian and learned something of her spiritual journey. She shared that her husband had died the previous year. Although she was grieving, she still communicated love for others and a zest for life.
I had a couple of additional conversations with Barbara before booking her. Whenever we talked, it was more than just business. She wanted to know about my family and was excited to learn that my wife, Caroline, and I, along with our ten-year-old son, Daniel, were headed to Russia that summer to adopt a four-year-old boy. I invited her to meet the family when she came to Memphis for our convention. She arrived in town only a few weeks after 9-11 and about a month after we returned from Siberia. She had a meal with us before the event (something I never do with speakers) and brought gifts for Andrei and Daniel. The whole family fell in love with her. And just as I expected, her message was well-received by our audience of Merry Maids franchise owners and managers.
Normally, I don’t continue to have contact with speakers after they make their presentation, but Barbara was an exception. Every few months she called or sent an e-mail asking about Andrei and the family, I learned more about her struggles to adjust to life as a widow. And then early in 2003 we learned of Caroline’s blood disease and shared with Barbara the prospects of a stem-cell transplant. She began to write Caroline, send small gifts, and even connected us with people in Seattle where the transplant was scheduled to take place. She even shared our needs with the National Speakers Association prayer group, and we heard from speakers around the country who were praying for us.
Throughout those difficult months while Caroline was in the hospital, Barbara continued to encourage us. It was especially difficult for me to travel back and forth between my wife and sons. I would spend one week in Seattle with Caroline and then return home for a week to be with the boys, with family or friends picking up the slack at either end. Wherever I was, I was away from someone who needed me. Barbara understood our struggles and the heartache of seeing a spouse slowly decline, having gone through something similar with her husband. We had planned for the boys to come up to see their mother during Christmas vacation. I’ll never forget the artificial Christmas tree Barbara sent for Andrei and Daniel. Unfortunately, they were never able to enjoy it, as Caroline died three days before Christmas and the boys never made it to Seattle.
After Caroline’s death, Barbara continued to reach out to me. Her pain was still deep but she was slowly healing. She always had a kind word when life seemed so confusing to me. She pointed me to the Lord and offered hope. I often questioned why God would let us adopt a little boy who had already lost one mother, only to lose another. It seemed so unfair for a six-year-old. I was unsure if I can raise the children on my own. Some days seemed overwhelming, with too much to do and never enough time.
Barbara encouraged me to trust God and accept each day as a gift. It was exciting to hear how her speaking engagements were growing and about the new books she was writing. Early in 2005, she shared with me an idea for a book that would offer practical suggestions on how to help those who are grieving. Something resonated deep within me, and I strongly encouraged her to write the book. I even gave her some ideas, having felt that most people did not know how to relate to me as a widower with younger children. Men especially seemed unaware of how to respond and often said nothing. I told Barbara I would regularly pray for this project. It was the one thing I could do after all she had done for me.
Barbara decided to contact all her friends who had experienced a significant loss and get their suggestions on what others did or could have done to help them. She obtained a host of ideas from her inquiries. We regularly talked about the content of the book and I kept praying. Later that year, she tried to write but found herself reliving her pain. I encouraged her to wait and knew in God’s timing this book would touch many lives. In 2006, she decided to try again to assemble the book. She found a week without any engagements and set aside the time to write. I prayed earnestly that things would come together this time. Remarkably, God helped her write the book in that one week. She even shared that the experience was part of her own healing. What an answer to prayer! It was a great privilege to receive the manuscript for my comments.
Now she needed a publisher. Although Barbara already had several books in print through well-known publishers, she had never authored a book of this nature. She sent the manuscript to several companies only to have it rejected. Many felt there was no market for the book, but I knew God had a plan and encouraged her to continue searching. Finally, her agent found a Christian publisher willing to produce the book. Interestingly, the senior editor at this company was also the editor of Barbara’s first book released by another publisher many years earlier. How interesting are God’s ways.
The book was produced with a beautiful cover and eye-catching title (What Can I Do? Ideals to Help Those Who Have Experienced Loss, Augsburg/Fortress, 2007). Although I did not write the book, I feel I had a small part in making it happen. A portion of my story is within it (especially the little brown bear). But even more, I prayed earnestly for its publication and continue to pray that God will use it to bring healing to those struggling through grief. I received one of the first copies that Barbara sent to friends. Imagine my surprise to find that not only were her late husband and infant son mentioned in the dedication (something I knew from reading the manuscript) but also that she had dedicated this book to me!
It has been over three years since my wife died. My journey through this whole grieving process has been the hardest experience of my life. Yet it is amazing what God has done along the way. I could never have imagined how that one phone call to a potential speaker would bring such unexpected blessings. The book has brought healing to my life. My prayer life has been strengthened. I’ve also learned through the stories that I’m not alone; others have walked this same path. And I’m excited to know that through the book many will find practical ways to reach out and help others through the healing process, even as Barbara helped me. God knew I needed a friend like Barbara Glanz.