Of all the valuable lessons I have learned in the last 5 years of motherhood, learning to ask for help has been the most valuable…and for my husband, accepting it. It all began when I had a high risk pregnancy with my first son in Chicago. My morning sickness became so severe, I had to quit my successful career in the corporate world and could no longer stand long enough to make food. It was my first encounter with a meal train. People from our church and our close friends signed up to bring us meals to get us through the difficult phase.
“Why would strangers make food for us?” My husband didn’t understand the gesture even though he appreciated it.
I wasn’t quite sure either. “I think when people aren’t sure what to do, feeding them is usually the best option.”
As the years passed and we had 2 more sons with extreme medical issues, dozens of brain surgeries and endless time in children’s hospital, this lesson became even more relevant. In truth, my husband really struggled in accepting any form of help initially. We didn’t want to be pitied. We didn’t want to seem needy. We cared tremendously about what others thought of us. We felt somehow it was shameful for us to need the goodwill of others. We were worried we could never spend money on our family if we dared accept help.
Yet now having received dozens of meal trains, prayers, caregiving for my kids, finances, advocacy, facebook likes, encouragement, notes at my doorstep- I have finally come full circle with the lesson. It is supposed to be this way. Community is a group of people loving, giving, receiving. If you can’t receive, there is a break in the chain and community isn’t whole. So this is what I have learned so far:
- We were not designed to do life alone.
Let’s all take a lesson from the Italians. Meal time can be such an event to an Italian family. The whole neighborhood can come together, share a meal, kids are laughing and chaos ensues. Doesn’t that sound more fun than eating your chicken marsala in the quiet of your home without your neighbors? When we open our doors and let people in, I believe we heighten our level of true joy. Just like the Bill Withers song we all sang in high school choir, “We all need somebody to lean on.”
- It honors others when you accept their help.
This is a big one. When friends lovingly offered help and we said no, it hurt them. This could be food, money, time, favors- we continually said no. When I offer to show up for a friend, I truly mean it and it always stings a little when I’m turned down. So I began nodding my head “yes” to almost everything offered. It was a beautiful thing. Honestly, we need help all the time and when someone goes out of their way to offer, we just keep nodding yes. I encourage others to do the same. No one wins when we close people out.
- You set an example.
I went on a women’s retreat last year and there was a speaker that blew me away. Her name was Mary McGrath and she is everything I want to be in life. She was energetic, inspiring, uplifting and also willing to share the hurts in her own life. We were doing a really difficult ropes course and I jokingly shouted out, “Blindfold Mary!” This woman walked on ropes, 40 feet above the earth, between to trees, and her only help was the sound of our voices guiding her.
Mary shouted affirmations to herself when it all seemed impossible. At one point she shouted, “I am STRONG!” We cheered. Then she shouted, “I know how to ask for help when I need it!” We went wild.
It resonated with me. Community is strength. Leaning on others is brave and vulnerable and rewarding. I too know how to ask for help when I need it and I’m no longer ashamed.
- It teaches you how to serve others.
Have you ever taken a personality test? Or a spiritual gift test? We are all so different and have God given talents. None of us are the whole package, but as a whole we can do so much more. By accepting help over the years, I’ve learned what it takes to be a first responder and I’ve learned some creative ways to do it. I’m a much better helper now because I’ve let myself be a recipient. I will never be able to pay back each person that has been there for me (and 99% of people don’t expect you too), but we are obligated to continue the circle and pay it forward. That can be a hug, a note, a warm meal; or it can be something more creative like nominating for an award, throwing a celebration, or sitting and listening for hours.
Let’s face it, we turn down assistance because we feel prideful. You can’t be vulnerable and prideful at the same time. Setting pride aside and humbly accepting is an important tool. When you serve others, you will do it lovingly and with no expectations or strings attached.
- Your kids will love it!
My oldest son is 5 years on and has no disabilities. It broke my heart that by 2 years old he was forced to spend so much time with caregivers. For the 5 months my middle son was in the NICU, I rarely left the hospital. I counted once that 32 different people watched my oldest son during those months. I had to nod “yes” to the offers I received for his care.
Guess what happened. He loved it! He made so many little new friends, got spoiled and loved on and I believe it made him more resilient. It didn’t make him less attached to me, yet it allowed him to be comfortable around a variety of people.
We all play a role in the community and that role changes during our season of life. When you are able, plan the meal train. Offer before you are asked and don’t take no for an answer. When you are in need, say yes. When you are down, reach out. This way, we all win.