Encouragement Stalker

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I mentioned in my last post that God has been teaching me 2 things this year.  The first was that the timing was right for me to start dipping my toes in ministering to those outside my household.  For years, he needed to keep my focus on seeing my kids through to the end of the day, and I kept getting distracted.

The second was related, but very difficult.  It cut deep to the heart of so many of my insecurities.  I has required that I face a lot of these insecurities, and trust the truth on a scary level.  I’m hoping it will gradually feel more normal.

I grew up in a pretty touchy-feely family.  My mom would often rub my back at night.  My sister and I would snuggle, even as adults.  My grandpa always had us in a hug, or held our hands.  Even my step-dad and I would sometimes lay down and take a nap.  Touching was just normal.  Sharing what was on your mind was normal.  I really don’t remember any topics off limits to discuss.  Religion and politics were normal conversation.  Debate was encouraged.

Then as a young adult I married into a family that is equally as wonderful, yet totally the opposite of that in mannerisms.  They aren’t touchy feely.  They don’t talk about your business.  I think that early in our marriage, I had a lot of awkward moments, as I simply did not understand the family culture, and misread a lot of things.  In hindsight, Knut and I joke that there are pros and cons to both styles of each of our families.

Then we moved for Knut’s job.  At our old church, we had friends who had walked some dark places with us.  They were friends that we had done life with, wept with, laughed with, and learned how to be a family with.  Starting at a new church wouldn’t have been so hard, but no less than 30 days into our new move, my family went through a really, really hard thing.  It rocked Knut and I to our core.  We reached out to our new church, and it was just…awkward.  It was like sharing too much, too soon in the relationship.  It was like going on a first date, and sharing all the worst parts of you over dinner.

After that, Knut and I went through about 2 years, perhaps more, of feeling like we had no friends.  No couple friends, no individual friends…nothing.  None of our close friends lived close.  A lot of our local friends we liked a lot, but they never seemed to have time for us.  We moved from a big city, where your friends were your family, to a small town where for most people, their family is their family, and their friends were people they saw every once in awhile, and they kinda already had their friends established.

I remember when Knut and I would ask each other, “Is there something about me, that turns people off?  Do I stand too close to people, or something?”  We began to honestly critique each other, and our body language and people skills.  We would watch each other, and give each other feedback.  There had to be some reason we couldn’t make friends.  We used to have friends.  We knew it could be done.  It was sad, and a lonely time.

Well, eventually we made some great friends.  It took some time.  We started pouncing on people who just moved to town too.  We knew how lonely a move to a small town could be.

But the insecurities, that I was not really a top-tier kind of friend stayed with me.

It was bad…like middle school bad.

Sometimes it’s just easier to give into the culture that surrounds you, to keep your head down, and just go with the flow.  Don’t make a ripple.  Talk about the weather.  Don’t make people feel uncomfortable.

There’s just one problem with that.  I am not a small-talk person.  I have a deep desire to talk about deep things.  I have a burning desire to help people with words of truth, and I believe it’s a gift God has given me for his kingdom use.  And yet, I felt like I just made people uncomfortable.  I was always standing on the outside of things, waiting to be invited.

I found a “safe place” on the internet, where opinionated voices are welcome.  I saw it as an outlet for my writing.  I found it as a way to reach other women, connect with them, and be a friend.  I still value my friendships online.  However, last spring, when I was listening to a writing podcast, I heard none-other than the blogging queen herself, Ann Voskamp, being interviewed. (She would hate being called that.  Sorry, Ann!)   I’ve listened to that podcast multiple times since, and even got to see her in person, and discuss it a bit more with her.  She said to seek the small.  Seek the small ministries, not the large platforms.  Seek the little moments that God has given you to notice for a reason.  You don’t want to reach the masses.  You want to reach that one soul.  There is no number too small for God to call you to.

It was then that I decided to try to meet with some younger women.  Here I had been talking about the importance of older women mentoring younger women, or women who are 10+ years or so behind where they are in life.  I had wanted so badly for someone to pour into me like that, and various women had done that for me from time to time, and it had been a lifeline.  I started with 2 ladies.  Then I happened on a couple more, who I meet with differently than the other 2.  It seems that just being someone who listens and speaks back truth is very, very needed these days.

I don’t feel worthy of holding these women’s stories.  All I do is try to point them back to Christ, in whatever that might mean for their situation.  I pray with them.  I don’t have much great advice to give, but I have Christ to share, and he’s walked with me through many things.

But I still find myself pulling back.  Recently, I have been deeply convicted of friendships that I have neglected, because of my insecurities.  I really thought I was bothering them.  I really thought they didn’t have time for me anymore.  I really thought that I was dragging them down.  Then I found out, they were hurting because they thought I had forgotten them.

I have been such a terrible friend.  

The conviction of that weighs heavy, and the relief of forgiveness is like a flood.

It’s easy to say it’s because I have been busy.  No doubt, I’m a crazy-busy person.  I do a million and one things.  But that’s not the truth as to why I haven’t been pursuing them.  The truth is: because of my insecurities.  Because of the lies I believe that I’m bothering people.  The lie that I have nothing good to say to them, or they don’t have time for me.  The lie that I would be imposing.

We are a culture afraid of being a stalker.  Do you know what the #1 thing that people say when I meet them, and find out that they read my blog?  They say things like, “You don’t know me, but I read your blog.  I promise I’m not a stalker!”

You’re not a stalker.  You’re my friend.  If I wanted my words to be private, I’d put them in my journal.  I have a lot of private words in my journal.  I put them out here because I pray, and hope, and get on my knees that these words find people that I don’t even know and encourage them.  If you read them, and are encouraged by them, than you, my friend, are an answer to my prayers.

No one ever says, “Oh, I don’t like her.  She’s always writing me those encouraging notes.”  No one ever says, “You know what, she’s just always saying nice things, and trying to bring out my best.  Ugh.”

Everyone is afraid of being a stalker.  Even me.  I was terrified to pursue certain people, and yet, they were the very people I was supposed to pursue.  The 2nd thing that God has been teaching me this year is to shed this fear I have of making a fool of myself for the lie that it is, and encourage people with my words as much as I can.  My new goal is to pursue people.  Pursue friendship with abandon, not because I’m in dire need anymore of friendship.  The opposite is true.  I have so many friends now that I’m full.

That just means it’s time to give out of that fullness, and find those people are alone, and wrap my arms and my words around them.  I know personally what Satan does when he brings people out of the safety of friends and gets them alone.  That’s when people really start to believe lies about themselves.  It’s when we start believing things about ourselves, or our marriages, or our lives that just don’t even make sense.

I have been convicted.  I have been forgiven.  I have regret.  I knew that some of my friends were struggling, and I stayed silent because their problems seemed too big, and I felt like butting in meant I was being pushy.  Likewise, when I spent years hurting, I didn’t speak up because I didn’t want to sound whiny, or incapable.  I really, really needed someone to encourage me, and speak life into my hurting soul.  I kept waiting…waiting in silence for someone to notice.

It would bless me greatly, if some of my long-time friends/readers on the blog would join me by considering your local friends, and think about who seems to need that encouraging friend.  That friend who makes them relax.  That friend who will call them up, and ask them out.  That friend who drops by and brings banana bread.  I want some of my friends to step up with me and do the scary thing and be one of those crazy-encoueragment-stalkers.  The world is desperate for it.

You wouldn’t be a stalker.  You would be a mentor.  You would be saying to them, through words or actions: I want to be a safe place for you to come.  I want to use only words that build up and bless you (Ephesians 4:29).  I won’t gossip.  I won’t judge.  I’ll let you wrestle through stuff, and I’ll speak the truth and love as much as you need to hear it as the world tells you lies that tears you down.

Broken people need to be pursued.  That’s what I’m learning this year.  Fortunately, we are all broken people, so you won’t accidentally pursue someone who couldn’t use the help.  They don’t always know how to speak up, and they don’t always know what they need, but they know that someone out there might know what to say, even though they don’t know what that is.  They are too exhausted to seek out a strong encouraging friend.

Titus 2?  Yeah, that famous passage doesn’t say “Younger women, seek out older, wise women, and listen and obey them.”  Nope, it says [Gretchen’s paraphrase] “Older women, be a safe place, not a drunk, not a gossip, but a trustworthy woman, so younger women trust you and open up to share the deepest hurts in their lives: that of the intimate places in their marriage that they’re too afraid to speak, and their deepest fears of their ability to parent children who won’t listen.  Help out those young women who feel like they’re drowning in their marriages and mothering, and guide them along.  Don’t just give them more laws to follow, but show them how to apply the gospel of grace to every relationship they have.”  The command is for those who have lived through the dark times, and understand how dark it can be, and understand the depths to which Christ can reach.

We need more of this type of stalker.  The encouragement stalkers.

Learning Dependence

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We took the month of December off of school, and boy did I need it.  We got through about 5 days of Advent readings.  I really dropped the ball in that area this year.

This year of tight schedules, running around, feeling like my new job was that of air traffic controller to these 6 kids and a husband in my house.  The margin available for error is small these days.  My errors, though, stay the same, and I’m constantly in catch up mode.

So I did what a lot of introverts do when they are over-spent.  I retreated, became introspective, reflective, and pretty much became a horrible friend.  I let commitments that meant a lot to me drop.  Through all that, one of my dearest friends was moving to the other side of the globe, and I could barely make myself return calls to her, because I knew those calls were setting up our “last goodbye” for a few years.  I didn’t want to say goodbye, so I retreated.  (We did eventually say goodbye, and I’m still recovering.)

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As I took the month to pause, and regroup, I found myself terrified by what I saw in me.  Writers block hit with greater force than it has in years.  I started to question God about some big things, and then I stopped showing up to hear his answers, because I figured I already knew what they were, and I didn’t like them.  I went into avoidance mode.

God, in his goodness, still pursued me.  He even still worked through me.  As I timidly walked into obedience in one area of my life, and started ministering to some other women, as well as my own daughter, I started having these amazingly deep conversations and was able to encourage people to seek Jesus’ face, as he is the author and perfecter of our faith.  Through these acts of ministry, God was relentlessly preaching to me, using the words that I was speaking to others.

I don’t think God gets angry when we quietly back up with timidity.  He is patient.  I find that with many of the women I speak with, they are afraid to pray what is really on their hearts.  They want to present their best to God, and appear before him unblemished.  They want to get their act together, and show God that they are listening and obedient.

Everything changed in my spiritual walk with God when I learned to present to God my ugly.  When I tell God the truth about my feelings.  When I show God my hardness.  When I question him out loud.  When I tell him that I’m stuck in this trap of feelings and fear, and I can’t get out.

Because he always gets me out of the trap.  And I never have done so on my own.  Hiding the fact that I get trapped in fear and self-sufficiency is just an act of pretense, and God wants intimacy.  My real father is an alcoholic, and our relationship over the years has it’s bulk in pretense.  He pretends he’s fine, for my sake.  I suppose he feels he is protecting me.  What he never seems to realize is that our relationship would grow if he would just share his struggles, instead of hiding them.  I see no point to a relationship based on lies.  I don’t like to pretend to have a relationship, with pretend information.

But in order to be honest with me, he has to be honest with myself.  I continue to find myself in his shoes, as I face God.  If I want to be honest with God, I must face the truth of the ugliness within myself.  And that is easier said than done.

I think God feels the same way.  I think sometimes when I avoid spending time with God, it’s because I’m weary of pretending that I’m good, or having the right words or the right attitude.  It’s just the lie that I have to be good, and show my good to God.

We don’t go to God to please him, but to be changed by him.  

If we go to God to present this person that we wish we were, then the relationship lacks depth.  It has no intimacy.  We must come out of the darkness, into the light, and share the parts of our heart that we’d rather not.

The ugliness in my heart that I was struggling through, and God wouldn’t let me hide, no matter how much I tried, was on the topic of dependence.  I’ll likely be writing about this a lot in the new year.  It goes back to when I was beginning to have good days after my car accident, and I prayed to God the silly prayer, “I’m getting better.  Pretty soon I won’t need you so much anymore.” Then I heard my pride, and my stupidity, and instantly repented.

So the question I’ve been asking for the last several months is “What does dependence on God look like when there is no crisis?” When I’m in crisis, I’m on my knees.  I’m asking God for the practical.  I can only handle the present.

But when the crisis is past, we take joy and pride in “getting our life back in order.” We work hard to make sure we aren’t put in a position of dependence again.

And it felt like God was asking me to step out in faith.  He wanted to use me for his purposes, and I knew, I knew that would mean trouble.  I know that would require dependence.  I was thoroughly enjoying “handling stuff” myself.  I was in a pattern of self improvement and taking steps towards independence.  I was failing, but not failing bad enough to really reach out for God as much.

Praying “Whatever you want, Thy will be done” when I was a preteen was fine and dandy.  It changed my life and God brought me into a world I had never even imagined.  As a teen, young adult, and even a married woman, I have learned to pray “Thy will be done” and open my arms to whatever God wanted to do through me.

But now I have 6 children.  They depend on me.  They hold such extreme value.  They are more precious to me than I could have imagined.  Must I also hold them up to the Lord and say “Thy will be done?” God turned my life upside down every time I have prayed that.  He turned it upside down in such a extreme, but life-giving way.  He changes everything.

But these are my children.

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And if I pray “Thy will be done” now, will he catch me?

I no longer wanted to be a writer.  I no longer wanted to reach many for the gospel.  I started turning inward, and it scared me.  I just wanted my quiet family to be safe and secure.  I didn’t want to become big, and live under the criticism of others.  I didn’t want my words overanalyzed, and mis-taken.  Being misunderstood through my writing has happened before, and it’s one of the most painful things I’ve lived through.  I’m not a good enough writer to avoid it.

I began to believe that if I were to hold my family, my writing, my all to the Lord, and say “Thy will be done” that one of my children would die.  I know that sounds crazy, but let’s be honest and let the crazy all hang out.  I saw so many people telling stories of God’s faithfulness during the hardest of trials, and if I wanted a big ministry, it would mean God would show up big, and the biggest way he could possibly do that is through the deepest hurts.  And that’s the greatest hurt that I could imagine.  Stories of mothers losing their children, and how God showed up started flooding my ears on a daily basis, taunting me.

So I stepped back.  I asked God for promises that if I gave him just me, he wouldn’t touch my children, and he gave me none.  He reminded me that my children are already his to do with as he wills.  He just asked me to trust Him, and his goodness.  My imagination paralyzed me.

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I know God is good.  I know he loves me.  I know he is present with me always, because his presence is so thick and gentle in the midst of my home that he cannot be avoided.  He continued to let me speak to others.  He continued to let me speak truth to my friends and women around me.  Every time I encouraged one of them, I was preaching the gospel to myself.  Every time I shared with them a verse, it was one that God was giving to me.

Faith is sometimes declared as a resolution. I have only experienced that in an emotional state, but from a spiritual-real-life-gritty perspective, I have learned that faith is never something that I can conjure up within me.  It is a gift that God places within me, and I slowly yield to it’s goodness.  Sometimes I feel like a hardened child, who slowly relaxes within the strong embrace of her Father, and when I take that shaky deep breath is the moment of faith.

My word for 2016 was Abide.

I think I could easily use that same one this year.  Though from a slightly different angle, the word I cannot escape for 2017 is it’s synonym: Dependence.

The last few months, I’ve joined a writing group called Hope*Writers.  It has become a huge new source of encouragement and iron sharpening iron.  I haven’t felt so supported in my writing and crafting well since I was in college.  One of the dear friends I have met there, Heather, who is also a writer, encouraged me with these words over our Voxer group.  I replayed them over and over, and wrote them down: “God gives us the grace to walk through hard things, but he does not give us the grace for our imaginations.”

We can live in the “what if.” But truly, living there is not living at all.  God gives grace for hard and concrete situations.  He will be with us in the dark, and in the pain.  But God will not give us a pretend-relationship. He will not give us the answers to all the “what-ifs.”  He simply says “follow me.” It’s faith.  Faith not that everything will be perfect, but that God’s grace will be greater, sweeter, and more sustaining than anything Satan can throw at us.

I’m going to be learning this year what dependence looks like in all circumstances.  It will be the focus of my personal study this year.

As you, dear friends, walk into the New Year as well, and examine resolutions, goals, and this past year, I’ll leave you with this quote shared I happened across yesterday:

“God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible.  What a pity we plan only things we can do by ourselves.” -A.W. Tozer.  

Take the Rest

Sometimes I need permission to ask for help.

Asking for help makes me feel desperate, and I hate feeling desperate.  I like feeling capable.  There’s a high that comes from juggling everything thrown at you, like an air traffic controller.  There’s something guilt inducing in needing help.  It’s admitting we are weak, and not sufficient.

A few years ago, this whole concept was turned upside down for me, when my husband and I listened to a sermon series by Colin Smith on the 10 commandments.  When discussing the Sabbath, he said this was a commandment not just for an individual, but for a community.  Many jobs, he argued, cannot be laid down for a day without the structure of a community.

I’m thinking being a mother is one of those jobs that requires a community in order to get rest.

Usually my husband is usually the guy who gives me the day off.  We try to look out for each other.  However, this weekend, he had an opportunity given to him to go to a fun sporting event on his day off the farm.  Then next weekend, I’ll be spending my sabbath throwing a birthday party for one of my kids.  Throwing parties is fun, but let’s be honest.  Birthday parties are about as relaxing for moms as “family vacations.”

Recently I was listening to a Bible teacher reflect on the context of when the 10 commandments were given.  A whole people…in the millions, had just walked out of centuries of slavery.  They had a slavery mindset, and had a slavery culture.  What does he do?  He brings them into the wilderness and hands them the 10 commandments.

It wasn’t about making them slaves again.  It was about retraining them to understand what freedom is.

On top of that (God has a way of layering these messages from all angles, so that we don’t miss it!) the kids and I have been reading through the book of Romans for our morning devotions.  There I read chapter after chapter talking about how we are not slaves to the law, and how it’s about looking to Christ for our salvation, not the law.  It talks about how Christ fulfilled the law, and that looking to Christ is the standard.

It’s hard to leave the slavery mindset, isn’t it?  Freedom is a difficult thing to grasp to someone who has lived in slavery.

And I’ll be honest.  Motherhood is a job for which you are not paid, and it often feels like you are meeting the demands of others night and day, as though even your body is not your own.  Hmmm…any parallels to slavery there?  (Don’t get me wrong.  Motherhood is a gift, not a curse.  However, the pace and demands of motherhood are nothing to balk at.  It’s hard, hard, good work.)

All of these Bible messages have been sinking deep in me the last few years, and as I looked ahead to the next 2 weeks, I saw that I wasn’t going to get my next 2 sabbath rests.  The draining pace of up at 7 (or earlier) and working non-stop in my home, until midnight when I fall into bed, that is shared by various children at various watches of the night, would be my life for the next 14 or more days.

And I realized, that not only can I ask for help, but I should ask for help.  

The guilt of needing help has switched in my brain.  God’s Spirit has changed my heart on this issue.  Now I feel that pang of guilt when I try to do it all by myself, not asking for help at all.  He has brought me to a place of understanding that needing rest is part of my design, and going, going, going, going without stop is actually an act of pride, as though I was above my design.  It’s a rejection of the freedom God offers me to rest, and saying that I’d rather take up the yoke of work for yet another day…so as to not bother anyone.

We can split hairs on what is work and what isn’t.  We can talk about emergencies and kids just needing us and there’s no way around it.  But harvest isn’t some surprise that happens every year.  We aren’t shocked by harvest as though it’s an emergency that we didn’t see coming.  It comes every year, and I’ve learned that I have the freedom to work within my design without guilt.

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So today I dropped my kids off at my friend’s house.  I kept Bjorn with me because he’s still feeding on demand.  But he’s an easy-going, great napping kind of kid.  However, I’m going to spend the day letting my brain rest.  Bjorn and I stopped by my favorite cafe so I could get an egg sandwich.  Then I’ll probably window shop for a few minutes, and then head home and work in my sewing room, and just let those creative juices flow.

I’m waiting to hear back from someone about next weekend too.  Because God doesn’t say that we are designed to rest once or twice a year.  Every 6 days of labor we need a day without.  I know that the next 6 days will be grueling, so I’m planning on getting some help to rest after that.

I no longer feel guilty in asking for help.  I feel like it’s obedience.  I’m moving to a place of feeling guilty for accepting help, to not feeling guilty for asking for help, to not feeling guilty for asking for help.

It takes awhile to get out of the slave mindset.

I’m slowly learning that spiritual maturity isn’t doing better all by yourself, and reaching a state of perfection.  It’s leaning heavier and heavier on Jesus who cares for us.  It’s listening to him when he says “rest” and looking to him for what he plans next.  The more I sink into God’s Word, the more I see the spirit of independence is not always spiritual maturity, sometimes it’s full on pride.

We need to remember both on the giving and receiving ends, that God’s laws…for our good… were not given to individuals, they were given to a community.

When You Have No Support

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Motherhood should never be done alone.  It should never be an isolated job.  It requires a support system of some sort, whether friends, grandparents, church family, cousins, neighbors, etc.  Sometimes I look around, and I see all these moms doing it alone.  And when they look for advice, and they look for help, and they look for encouragement, (because they are keenly aware that they are sinking), people tell them that they need some support, instead of actually offering support.

Having trouble in your marriage?  You two need some time alone, without interruption.  You should have a date night. (Um, thanks.  Care to watch the kids?)

Having trouble getting any rest?  Someone should come over every once in awhile and let you take a shower and a nap.  (So…when can I schedule you.)

Feeling overwhelmed?  What you need to is to go out with some friends and just get away.  (Sounds fun.  So can you be the friend or the sitter…or something?)

Feeling lost on how to deal with a child stuck in an attitude?  Are you having trouble just liking this child?  You need a mentor who has walked in your shoes.  (Great…so where do I sign up for a mentor?)

I’m not sure if it came with the onset of the “women’s choice” movement, where the culture shifted to “you chose this child, you deal with it” mentality.  We all see the thread of truth in that.  These are my children.  They are my responsibility and no one else’s.

But speaking directly to the church, we are called to hold each other up.  We know that, but there’s an issue with that.  Lean close, because I’m about to share with you one of Satan’s most basic battle strategies:

Make people feel isolated and alone.  Get a sheep away from the flock.

He knows we need community.

The strategy goes even further than that.  It’s not just getting anyone separated and alone.  He picks the people caring for the least of these.  He attacks the women and children.  He often attacks the children by attacking their caretaker.  It’s like getting 2 birds with 1 stone.

Have you ever been in that position, where you feel like you have no support system?  I have, for sure, during various times of my last 12 years of motherhood.  If you feel alone, here are some steps.

Acknowledge it’s a spiritual battle and treat it as such.

There are a few things that give away the spiritual elements of this.  They are Satan’s fingerprints, if you will.  First, there’s a bit of lie mixed in with it.  Sometimes we feel like we have no friends, when we do.  We feel like we can’t ask when we can.  We feel unloved when we are.  Satan loves to twist our feelings into disbelief to things that are true.

Another one of Satan’s fingerprints is your battle position in the home, taking care of the little ones that are so precious to God.  Let’s face it.  You’re wearing target on your back having a job like that.  Ask anyone else who is in ministry, whether a pastor or elder, or missionary, if they have ever felt spiritually attacked when they took their job.  You’ll get the same answer pretty much across the board: yes…of course.  When you recognize the importance of your position from a kingdom perspective, it won’t be so surprising that you feel like you’re falling apart.

Also, the feeling of defeat is a very common sign of spiritual battle.  When you are tempted to resign yourself to the fact that you will always be alone, that your marriage will always be bad, that no one will ever help, that you just won’t see your friends until your kids turn about 18 or so…you’ve given into defeat.  You’ve stopped trying.  And that’s exactly where Satan wants you.

Therefore…

Pray, because that is your biggest weapon.

Pray that God would bring you a mentor.  Pray for your marriage.  Pray for your kids.  Pray for your attitude. Cry out to God.  Speak Jesus’ name.  Get in the battle.  Fight back.  Pray when you don’t feel like it.  Wrestle with God if you need to.  He can take it.  Tell God you don’t feel like it.  Don’t come up with something pretty and fluffy that you think God wants to hear, tell the most gut-wrenching truth to him that you can muster.  The truth is powerful.  Pray it.  Sometimes when I pray what I see is real, and really wrestle or cry out to God, He ends up revealing the most life-changing truths that I refused to acknowledge, or showing up in ways I didn’t think were possible.  It’s worth it.

Keep your eyes open for opportunities for compassion.

I think that people who have experienced the most pain in their lives tend to have the most compassion.  It’s like they have this radar for people who are hurting.  They know what to say, because they’ve lived it.  They know how to show up because they know what someone’s presence can mean to someone who is hurting.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”  -James 1:2-4. (ESV)

When we go through those deep dark places, we find ourselves uniquely qualified, dare I say chosen, to be an instrument to help others.  I heard a story once from a friend of mine who worked in refugee camps of Syrian refugees traveling to a refugee camp that was already full.  The UN had no more supplies in this location, and 600 or so more people were just going to show up because they had no where else to go.  So it was the Syrian refugees who were already living at the camp who took up a collection of food, blankets, and tent space so that these 600 newcomers would have food and shelter when they arrived.

Those who are poor can’t stand seeing someone go without.  One of my best friends and I connected in a place in our lives when we both felt lonely, and it was a huge connection for us to see that the other one truly understood what we were going through.  Keep your eyes open, because you have something in your vision that others may not see.  Look out for that other mom who looks like she’s sinking.  Say something encouraging to that stranger with the toddler screaming on the floor of the grocery store.  Love on others the way that you would want to be loved.  It could be that is the purpose in all of this hardship and if it is, then don’t miss it.

Keep asking for help even when you hate it…but wait for God’s timing.

So you’re praying for help.  Your eyes are open for those who can help, and for those who need help.  Now it’s time to be vulnerable…again.  When I move to a new place, or my old mentor moves away or moves on, and I need a new mentor, I usually get turned down 5 times before someone says “yes.”  I’m finding that’s pretty normal.

As far as physical help, I’m not sure if it’s the midwest culture, or if it’s just general pride, but asking for help is often frowned upon where I live.  Whether or not that’s true, it feels that way.  Where I live, you wait to be offered help.  When you are offered help, you should politely turn it down at least twice.  If they insist on helping a 3rd time, it’s okay to accept, as long as you show reluctance.  At least that’s an old family joke.  You don’t just come out and say: “Could you help me?”  I have even asked for help once, after my big car accident.  The woman who was asked stayed for about 30 minutes, explained to me everything that I was doing wrong as she sort of helped with something on the table, and then left, basically saying she was glad I didn’t look hurt at all, and if I could get more organized and my kids better behaved I’d be good to go.

Wasn’t that helpful?

This is why you pray about it first before you just start asking people for help willy-nilly.  You need the person with a servant’s heart.  You need the right person to help you, the prepared person.  You need to have a prepared heart, and they need to have a prepared heart, and God is in the prepared heart business.

On the other hand, when I started praying about it, a woman in my homeschool group called me up and said, “Gretchen, I’d love to come over to your house and chat with you on how you are doing.  When would be a good time?”  She came over, we chatted and before long I started crying as I told her how I felt like I was drowning and couldn’t keep my head above water.  She talked with her 17 year old daughter, who then came over every Thursday afternoon to watch my kids so I could rest and clear my head, and maybe even get some work done in peace.  She did this for months.

She was the person God had prepared.  And God had prepared me to open up when I wanted to appear strong.

I’m so thankful that I have a great support system now.  It has taken a long time to build, and as people move to different places, or just move on, a support system can end up being a very fluid thing.  I’m also thankful for the lonely times (in hindsight) for all that they have taught me, and it has given me the ability to recognize the need in someone else that I would otherwise be oblivious to see.

You are not alone.  God has not left you.  Pour your heart out to him, and keep your eyes open.  He has so much in store for you: blessings that will come in the most unexpected forms.  Sometimes he sends help.  Sometimes he’s just working something in us for the purpose of his kingdom.  Sometimes it’s both.

But you are not alone, and you are not forgotten.