A Season of Struggle

A sweet young mom looked at me and confessed, “This has been one of the darkest times of my life.” I had just participated on a panel of mentor moms talking to moms of little ones at our church. This sweet friend proceeded to tell me the struggles she has been facing due to the effects of COVID. My heart hurt for her as I sensed her pain and isolation.

I belong to a Facebook group that serves teachers who are trying to find other careers. One mom wrote how she has a toddler, is pregnant, has extra responsibilities with her teaching job due to COVID and she is drowning. “What can I do to relieve the stress?” she implored.

A dad of three confessed to me recently that he has sought counseling for the first time in his life. A strong man of faith, the increased isolation and uncertainty of the time is getting to him. He needs a safe place to process.

This Tuesday I have the pleasure of being a guest speaker for a MOPS group in Michigan. The theme I’m supposed to talk about is Be Strong. What a timely theme! It seems there is much to fear right now. Life can leave us feeling pretty weak right now when even going to the grocery store is a more difficult task. I still find empty shelves for things I need and I realize I’m using more brain power in order to check all of the items off of my list. I read recently that living in a pandemic is similar to visiting another culture. Rhythms we once held for common tasks are thrown off kilter so we really do have to think harder these days.

Each of the people above made some good choices. The first realized something needed to change and started focusing on self-care, which included simple things like connecting with a friend. The second mom reached out to ask advice and people responded with some great ideas. The dad I talked to was right on track by recognizing he needed some professional intervention. Sometimes being strong is best accomplished by admitting we need help.

I have undoubtedly had worse years in my personal life than 2020. This year has been a breeze for me compared to a couple in my past. For some, this is most certainly one of the worst. I do worry a bit as we enter the winter months. I always find it harder to regulate my mood during the coldest season. I’ve coped well the last several months by hiking and spending a lot of time outdoors. As that gets a little harder/less enjoyable to do, I’ll have to be more creative and intentional.

Don’t be afraid to communicate your struggles to your spouse, a friend, or a counselor. So many are fighting tooth and nail to remain positive. If you find yourself there, you are certainly not alone.

I was recently reminded of how God provided manna for the Israelites in the desert one day at a time. God asked them to depend on Him for what they needed just for the day. Any extra gathered would rot. In my darkest times I have found it best to focus on the present. The future might seem terrifying, but God can give us what we need just for the moment. Devoting energy to troubling thoughts is just like rotting manna. As Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Image from https://unsplash.com/photos/7Zyl18GzDPQ?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

Will You Push Me?

swing

“Austin’s mom, Austin’s mom! Will you push me?”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this on the playground yesterday. I visited a local park with my youngest for a field trip with four first grade classes. The swings hung so high above the ground that the kids needed help getting on, and then of course they wanted a few pushes to get them going. They decided three pushes would be sufficient. So I got part of my workout yesterday pushing numerous kids repeatedly. I loved it!

As I pushed them, some told me stories. One of my favorites was from a little girl who told about her aunt recently having a baby. “I have a little cousin now. He is a treasure!” she beamed. My heart melted a little right then.

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days about how we know it’s time to ask for help, and when it’s appropriate to offer it. I’d like to use some examples from kids on the playground to  illustrate my ideas.

1) The Quick Fix:One little guy was having quite the difficult time. His pants were super loose and he ran around in imminent danger of showing the world his underwear. He clomped along behind his friends with one hand hitching up his britches. “Hey guys, wait up! I can’t run that fast,” he’d holler. He managed to prevent a bigger problem, but this wasn’t really a solution was it? This little guy wasn’t asking for help, but I knew I might be able to make his life a bit easier. Having little guys myself, I know most waistbands are adjustable these days. I called him over to me, and sure enough he had the elastic on the inside. With his permission, I tightened them up and sent him on his way. He had both hands free then to scurry up the climbing wall. Problem solved. Lesson: if someone offers help and they have the knowledge to do so, take it. If you see someone struggling, offer assistance if you can. There is freedom in utilizing the skills and knowledge of others, and blessings come from coming to the rescue of our friends..

2) I Can Do It Attitude: Sometimes people have a problem, but they have the resources and the determination to fix it. One little girl was struggling a bit. I asked if she needed help. “No, I can do it.” Pause. “But thanks anyway for asking!” Don’t you love that? She knew she could do it, and she did, but she paused to say thank you. We can always offer help, but sometimes people don’t want it, or aren’t ready for it. However, isn’t it good to know someone is there if we do need help?

3) A Leg Up: Often when we have a problem, we know we can address multiple aspects of it, but there may be just one portion on which we are stuck. Some kids didn’t want me to push, they just wanted me to get them into the swing. One step of the process was enough. Be willing to help with what’s needed, then back away. Too much help might only cause irritation.

4) A Healthy Dose of Self-Awareness: Many people don’t ask for help until it’s too late. All of the kids who wanted to swing and couldn’t get up on it were vocal about it. They knew there was a problem and asked for help. Individuals will wander around a store or library for a ridiculous amount of time before they ask a worker for what they are in search of. I’ve heard it said that too often by the time a couple who is in crisis asks for help in their marriage, it’s nearly too late. The problems have gone on too long. Recognizing there is a problem and admitting it, are key to getting the solution. If you are struggling in some area of your life, don’t be afraid to say to a good friend, “Hey, will you push me?” Don’t miss out on joy because you are too prideful to seek or accept help.

Helping these kiddos made me feel useful. And, I got to know them better in the process. I think I had way more fun than the parents on the sidelines playing on their phones. (But that’s a post for another day).

Bottom line: ask for help when you need it, and offer it when you can. We’d all be better off with a few pushes now and then.

signature

We All Need a Little Help Sometimes

My sweet friend Emily. Such a blessing!

My sweet friend Emily. Such a blessing!

Is there a skill you would desperately like to acquire? Is there a fun hobby you would like to learn, but you don’t know where to start? Is your house a complete disaster and you have no idea how to get organized? Consider finding a mentor.

I cannot begin to convey to you how wonderful it is to bring someone alongside you that has expertise in areas that you don’t. Or, simply someone to breathe wisdom into your life that you don’t currently have.

I have been blessed with some amazing people in my life who have taught me many things. My youth minister and his wife (as well as other youth workers) taught me about leadership among other skills in high school. A social worker taught me the importance of standing for a cause. My sixth grade teacher allowed me to work in her classroom and modeled good teaching practices for me when I was a senior. A professor in college and his wife shared their home with me and gave me good advice. My friend Joni taught me more about leadership and how to love on those around me. My sweet friend, Claudia, has taught me more than I can list through all of her amazing wisdom, has helped me be a better wife,and given me courage to do things I would never have done otherwise. Most recently a friend and her husband have shared their knowledge of personal training to help me get on track with a fitness plan and they cheer me on along the way. These special people are only the tip of the iceberg.

Mentoring comes in many different forms. No two experiences are alike. Your time together might focus on a particular skill, you might just chat with one another, your mentor might hold you accountable for something, or maybe you can study a book together. I’ve done all of the above, and they have all been beneficial.

Others can benefit from you being a mentor to them. Sometimes people hesitate to help others because they feel they have nothing to offer, but everyone has skills that others can incorporate into their lives. If someone asks you for help in a particular area, be willing to give it a try.

This past summer I helped at the One Girl conference in Bloomington for teen/tween girls. At one point the girls broke into groups based on their gifts. I was to lead the “teaching” group. The girls spread out around the room. I ended up with one girl in my group. While I could have been disappointed, the ability to just focus on her as an individual led to an opportunity to continue a relationship with her throughout the school year. Her mom really wanted her to learn about leadership, so we worked through a book together. This time was one of the highlights of my week. I gained as much from the relationship if not more than she did. We all need to feel useful, and mentoring allows this to happen.

Sometimes your arrangement just doesn’t work out for whatever reason. I had a college girl one time who asked to be mentored, but then after she failed to show up a couple of times I realized she was simply too busy. Her heart was in the right place, but her schedule was a little too full. Be flexible.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask someone for help. Too often we don’t ask because we fear rejection or imposing on someone else’s time. What is the worst that could happen by asking? They might say no, but then you seek out someone else. You don’t have anything to lose!

Just imagine what your life might look like if you had someone to help you on your journey. What is something you think you could use some help with today? Give it some thought. You won’t be sorry.