We awoke Monday morning in a bed that wasn’t ours, wearing the previous day’s clothes, lacking rest but somewhat energized by the day ahead. Weeping lasted for a night, but maybe joy would come to us this morning. We had calls to make about our van, sitting in the driveway, unable to move more than a few inches without a horrific grinding sound.
We wandered downstairs where the coffee was already brewing, preparing the grown-ups for an unexpected day of togetherness. The kids were off school and didn’t sleep a lot. It was going to be a very long day.
The four of us sipped coffee and Beth began prepping breakfast, even though she’s not a breakfast person. (This is a clear evidence of love.) Phil and I offered to make a pie crust for the egg mixture she was putting together, and as we mixed the dough and rolled it out, our friends said to us: “Despite the circumstances, we’re glad you are here.”
I forced back tears, sure that if I started crying this early in the day, I would never stop. It had seemed nearly impossible that the tears would stop the night before, when I sobbed on a borrowed pillow, my body shaking with despair. (How much is enough? I wailed in my head. How much must we endure? At the time, unemployment and a stranded vehicle seemed like too much to bear, even though I know others have suffered much worse.)
I wanted to reply with some sarcastic remark because when I am uncomfortable with people’s love and affection, I try to laugh it off, make a joke, downplay my own value in the relationship. (The one with my husband is not exempt.)
I did not want to accept their words. How could they be glad? There were four of us added to their five. We had already spent half a day with them (as planned) and now we were adding another day to the mix, as well as numerous needs. In my mind, we were a burden. And frankly that probably says more about me than anything.
Later, after we were home and I could lament on Facebook and share our continuing saga with the world (i.e. my world), our friend commented: “Put your arm around our neck; we’ll limp along with you until you can walk.”
I don’t like to be needy. I’ll gladly help someone else in need, but when it’s my neediness, I want to be out of need as quickly as possible and I don’t want to be pitied. Also, I’m terrible at asking for help. Sometimes, there’s no denying the need, though, and because we have such a caring, supportive network of friends, family and church family, we did not hide our need. It’s weird how I both don’t want to be in need and don’t want to bear it alone. Then when it comes to accepting help, I feel awkward and burdensome. Like our need is going to negatively affect the friendship somehow.
But we aren’t meant to bear our sufferings alone, and we aren’t meant to struggle alone. We are to help each other. And sometimes it takes the act of being helped for me to remember how crucial and necessary it is.
“How are you getting by while your expenses exceed your income?”
It was just a question on a piece of paperwork we needed to submit after I reported that my husband had lost a job. I wish the answer was simple. Or maybe I don’t.
Because the answer is big.
How are we getting by? With a lot of help from our friends. If I listed them all, I would forget someone because they are many. Plus, none of the people who have helped us have any desire to be recognized by name.
Still, I want to tell you what these past few weeks have meant to us.
I told you about the money that showed up on our doorstep on January 1 and how God answered a prayer that day. He continued to answer. When I told him I couldn’t make this work, that the numbers wouldn’t add up for the bills we had to pay, He answered. And answered again.
The next week, we walked out of church with three monetary gifts we hadn’t asked for. Then a friend took me to lunch and gave me a card that had some money in it. One day we received a card in the mail that had money and encouraging words and a link to a book download. Another friend sent us a money order. Another check arrived in the mail. Then another gift card.
A local friend stopped by with a box of chocolates she had picked up at the discount grocery. “I thought you might need some chocolate,” she said. She was right. I asked another friend for a ride to Target to pick up some supplies. She was ready to take me anywhere else I needed to go that day.
After a coffee date with a writer friend, I asked if I would taking advantage of our friendship if I stopped at the grocery store a mile from our house to pick up a few things. She chuckled at my question because again, I feel like a burden.
When we decided to get the van fixed, we were gifted two-thirds of the money to pay for it. When my husband finally got the call that he could work a day to try out this new job, we rented a car. (That was also a day an unexpected check came in the mail that would cover the cost of the rental.) When it was time to take it back, a friend happened to be on her way to Lancaster and invited us girls for a sweet treat trip downtown, and she was able to pick Phil up from the rental agency.
There are more stories, so many I’m afraid to try to list them because I don’t want to leave anyone out. I can’t keep up with the love, and we are racking up debts we cannot repay, nor does anyone want us to. Pay it forward, they say. You’d do the same for us, they say.
All of it is humbling.
And it is showing me love without condition. These people, they are loving us, not because we can pay them back, not because we have helped them in the past, but because they love us for who we are. Maybe they feel some responsibility for us. I don’t know. As a first-born child with a stubborn streak of independence, I don’t like feeling like other people are responsible to take care of me. But there are times in all of our lives when it’s just too much to try to take care of ourselves. Sometimes we have to let others shoulder the burden for a while.
To limp along with us until we can walk again.
I tell you these things for a couple of reasons.
One, so you know what a blessing you are when you help someone out. Every single one of these people said they wished their gift could have been more. And all of them were so generous. If you are in a position to help someone out, never apologize for the gift. It means everything to the recipient, and even if it feels small, it is big in their eyes. (Also, just do something. Don’t ask what you can do. I never know how to answer that question. I will call you if I need a ride somewhere, but I probably won’t ask you for money or a meal. No gesture is wrong if done with the right intention.)
Two, so you can feel free to accept help when you need it. Know that some things are too big to bear alone and other people want to help. Let them. Let yourself be loved. I know how I feel when I help someone else. It is a gift to me as much as it is to the person I’m helping. Receive the gifts in love and try not to think of yourself as a burden. Remember everything, as much as you can, and be willing to be the person who helps the next time you are able.
Three, so you know that community is a beautiful thing. What has shocked me the most about these past few weeks is that the people who have helped us have come from various points in our life. From our hometown. From my husband’s military service. From our time at seminary. From where we lived previously. From college. From our church now. It was not one set of people who threw their arms around us. It was like a segment of “This is Your Life.” Phil and I often feel disconnected from our best people. We grew up in one town in one state, spent our first married year in another town in that state, moved 800 miles across country to another town where we spent 5 years before we moved to this place. And that’s just our married life together.
We have friends scattered across this country, across continents. It can feel a bit disjointed to not have a core community group centered on where we physically live. But in times like these, I’m grateful. I’m glad to have had the experiences we’ve had, to have so many people in our corner, rooting for us, cheering us on.
I rarely feel worthy of so much support and love.
And maybe that’s been the best part of this whole ordeal, having to receive the kind of help and love we can never repay.
It’s the kind of news that, no matter the other news happening in our world, is still so very good.