I was a newlywed in my twenties. Three times a week I would care for our youth pastor’s son. They didn’t need me to watch him, he said he liked his exposure to me. I’m not sure exactly sure what that meant, but I wonder if he changed his mind when young Taylor starting coloring in their Bibles after watching me mark in mine while I study?
This particular day, my then husband and I were driving back to our apartment with little Taylor in the back seat of our beat up old Chevy Impala. Taylor was a delightful preschooler, but very energetic and friendly. I was meditating fiercely on the passage about being kind to strangers because you could be entertaining angels unaware. I was wondering how to teach Taylor that passage without putting him in danger with a different kind of stranger.
Our apartment was gated, with a passcode, so I was a little surprised to see what appeared to be a homeless man in our parking spot as we pulled in. The verse I was just thinking about came quickly to my mind. What if he is an angel? Oh, but what if he is not? I think I’ll keep Taylor away from him just to be safe.
As I walked Taylor toward our building the man approached my husband.
“God told me to give this to you,” the stranger said, handing him a five dollar bill.
He held up his hand in refusal. “No, you need it more than I do.”
The stranger retorted, “If you don’t learn to ask for help, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
When I next looked around, the man had disappeared. I mean literally disappeared. We couldn’t find him.
I have treasured that experience up in my heart for years. I wondered if ironically, while I was thinking about angels, the Lord sent one to us. The gate to the apartment never opened and he was no where to be found. If he was an angel, I didn’t know if the message was intended for me or my then husband, but I tried not to forget it.
A few years went by and my first born arrived. I had been yearning for a child of my own for five years, so he was very welcome indeed and the joy of my heart. I had big plans for this child. My hero growing up was Caroline Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. To me, she was the perfect mother. Just as Proverbs 31 teaches, the teaching of kindness was on her tongue. Her gentleness and service to her family never tired. That is the kind of mother I wanted to be. I was going to rise early and make homemade baby food. I was going to cheerfully teach and play with my son all day, then my husband would come home to a spotless home and a delicious home cooked meal.
Some days I could pull it off. Each day, I tried. For some reason, though, I couldn’t shake my tiredness. No matter what I did the exhaustion was overwhelming. I was even napping during the day when I could, and still I felt like my body wasn’t working. Oh the guilt I felt. Why couldn’t I tirelessly serve my family? I began memorizing passages on slothfulness in hopes of shaking the horrible desire to rest all the time, but it didn’t help. What was wrong with me?
Then, when Dillon was six months old, I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. That at least explained the tiredness. But, it didn’t help with my circumstances. Now I was facing surgery and radiation on top of this incredible exhaustion. My dreams of being the perfect mom went out the window. I was shattered and frightened. I wanted so much to raise my son. What if I didn’t survive the illness? The night I received the diagnosis my husband was out of the state. Alone on my bed, looking at my son, the joy of my heart, I cried out to my God while opening my Scriptures.
The passage I came to was the Virgin Mary after the angel had just given her the message that she would deliver God’s Son. Her life plans had just been shattered too. How did she respond? Mary said, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” My heart was pierced and my prayer went something like this:
“God, I want to have Mary’s heart. I want to say be it done to me according to your word. I’m just scared to. I want to raise my son. However, if you’ll help provide the courage, I’ll say the words. I am your bondservant. Be it done to me according to your word.”
There was no magic button that made my heart courageous. But, day by day, I would cry out to him for grace to obey, as well as mercy to raise my son.
I got really sick and had a hard time keeping up with responsibilities. I felt like a failure, until one evening the words of the stranger came back to me. Maybe there is nothing wrong with me asking for help.
I told my friend, Emily Barefoot, I was having a hard time. Two days later she and her mom came by and did some ironing and helped with my floors. I felt some of the pressure alleviate. I learned asking for help was acceptable.
You’d think with such a powerful lesson I would be good at accepting help. But alas…. I am a slow learner. Let’s fast forward almost twenty years. I’m now in my forties. I’m a single mom with four children, plus one teenaged house guest for a semester, who needs some extra help with her homeschooling. I’ve been diagnosed with Lyme disease and am struggling with the effects of the treatments. I’ll be on three antibiotics for a year. I keep getting fevers and the pain is hard to deal with, which makes me move significantly slower than I normally would. Once again I am not keeping up well.
If I were intelligent and humble, this paragraph would have said, “I called my Relief Society President, told her what I needed and am now graciously accepting the service of others.” But, alas, I was not intelligent and humble. I wanted to do it on my own. I wanted to feel like a success.
Fortunately, my Heavenly Father gave me an incredible Relief Society President, Jennifer Schwartz. She called me one day and said she feels like they should be doing more for me. I told her that though I don’t feel well, I think it is my responsibility to care for my family. She disagreed. I even tried using the scriptures. I pointed out the passages that talk of putting your house in order. I brought up the passages that say God doesn’t give us responsibilities without giving us the power to accomplish them.
Jennifer is a pull no punches kind of gal. I really like her and we get along great. But, that personality meant that she wasn’t going to let me use Scripture as a means of covering my pride. She said, “Yes, Annmarie, and it says in those passages to do it all by yourself, doesn’t it? Do you really want to deprive us of the opportunity to grow and serve you?”
“Now you’re making me feel guilty for not letting you serve,” I replied.
“Good.” She said.
We’ve compromised. One night a week, people are bringing us a meal. Normally I take a delightful elderly woman grocery shopping once a week. She’s providing someone to take her two of those times so I get a break. She’s also asked if occasionally someone can come in and help me with the house chores. I’m working on putting my pride aside for that one. We’ll see…
You may be asking what is the point of this long post. I can tell you what the point is in my life. The Lord is trying to teach me several things. First, I am not a failure if I need help. He tried to teach me that before I actually needed the help, but I am a slow learner.
You are not a failure if you need help either. Maybe you are like me. You want to be perfect. You want to excel at everything you try. You want to accomplish great things and be useful. There are times in your life when you won’t be able to do it all and someone will get the opportunity to serve you. Both of you will be blessed for the lessons learned during the time of service. So, if you are in the admittedly undesirable position of needing a helping hand, remember to put your pride aside and accept service graciously. I’m trying to learn to do that now.
Secondly, I will hopefully remember what if feels like to need service, but feel like a failure if you ask. I want to apply that in my service to others. How can I serve those around me in a way that makes them feel useful and successful as well? I’m writing down the things that would be helpful in my current circumstances, so when I encounter someone else struggling, I’ll know better how to be of service to them.
You can do the same. Look at those around you…or better yet, pray, because we are often good at seeming like we have it all together, when in reality we are drowning. Ask God who needs your service, then get in there and serve. To be honest, I HATE it when someone asks, “What can I do to help you?” Why? Because even though there are things I need help with, I feel too guilty asking them to do it. Instead, think about what would be useful and then say, “I would like to ____________. When can I come over?”
At least, those are some of the things I’ve been writing down for my service to others. Hopefully, we’ll all be good at both giving and accepting help.