This week I encountered another situation where I struggled to know what to say. When there is a pattern developing, I pay attention. God is usually making a point.

One of the women I mentor, “Angie,” sent me a selfie. (I’m sharing her story with permission.)

She had oxygen tubing come out of her nose and looked about as pathetic as a person can look. 

Last month, she was in the hospital with the same symptoms. I said, “Angie. This is a wake-up call for you. Unless you quit smoking and vaping, you are going to die.”

“Oh, Sylvia,” she said. “The only people who are dying because they ‘vape’ are kids who overdo it. I know what I’m doing.”

This time, Angie’s breathing difficulties were much more serious. In fact, she was hospitalized for eight days of tests, antibiotics and steroids. She has permanent damage to the bases of both lungs and the pulmonologist told her the cause is “environmental.” 

Angie believed this meant smog, mold and allergens. I finally convinced her that the list includes ingested nicotine.

Angie is like a daughter to me. I love her that much. But I admittedly lack experience in healthy parenting; I never birthed children of my own. So I called an older, wiser woman and took her to lunch. 

“Help me find words that are softer than ‘I told you so,’ fall short of ‘you’re an idiot if you continue to vape,’ and still tell Angie I love her.” 

Talking through this issue my friend helped me see one of my difficulties. Angie desired sympathy. She wanted to take a victim position and have me emotionally rescue her. That’s not what effective mothers do. I wanted to motivate her toward a healthy change because it is painful to watch her suffer. 

I left lunch with a three-step plan.

When I got home it was time to speak the truth with kindness, but first I implemented step one by praying Psalm 19:14:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.”

Sometimes parents and friends need to say things that are uncomfortable. Above all else, our words need to be pleasing to God. What would He speak into the situation?

Step two. I said, “Daughter of my heart, consider something …

“If husband and I had a gun in the house and I played with it every day, and he said, ‘Sylvia, you are going to shoot your foot off if you keep playing with that gun.’ And I said, ‘Oh, the only people who shoot their feet off are kids who don’t know better. I’m fine. Really.’ Then one day the gun went off and with it my foot …  How much sympathy am I entitled to receive from my husband who loves me?’”

There was no hesitation from Angie. “None. You were warned and you chose to do it to yourself.”

I immediately moved to step three. “I love you. It’s hard to see you so sick, gasping for air. I know how hard it is to quit smoking. After 20 years of two packs a day, I quit one day when God announced very clearly that He was sending me a husband who was allergic to cigarette smoke. 

“Breaking my addiction to nicotine was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. A couple years later my husband asked me out on our first date; he’s allergic to cigarette smoke. How can I help you?”

Tomorrow I’m mailing Angie a good book to read, chocolate and nicotine patches. 


Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at



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