53: It’s What We Do

53: It’s What We Do

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

It’s What We Do

In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy.

~Karl Reiland

I tried to fluff my pillow. Tried to roll over. Looked longingly at the book that lay on the chair across the room. But I couldn’t fluff, roll, or retrieve. In fact, there wasn’t much I could do. Since the disks in my back had bulged and protruded and extended to places they shouldn’t, I’d been in bed. The MRI exposed a spine that looked like a zipper of uneven teeth. Even therapy wasn’t an option.

“We’ll fix you up,” my neurosurgeon said, “after the birth of your baby.”

But that was months away.

I placed my hand on my tummy and felt my third son move. Outside the birds were singing. Mowers hummed and the scent of fresh cut grass wafted through the open widow. I wished I could feel light, warm, hopeful with the promise of new summer. But I couldn’t. Couldn’t care for my young boys. Couldn’t help them brush their teeth or make their favorite meals or fold their little T-shirts or push them in their swings. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I couldn’t do. Taking care of my family was what I did.

I cried. The ringing phone, muffled by a twist of pink cotton bed sheet, startled me. It was my husband, calling from work.

“Hey, Alice called. She’d like to come by the house this afternoon. To work out a meal calendar,” he said. “I told her it would be fine.”

“Sure,” I said. Alice was an older lady from church. I was grateful for her willingness to help. But this was another reminder of what I couldn’t do, and it broke my heart.

It wasn’t long before Alice arrived. First I heard the front door open, then the soft, steady voice of my son’s Sunday School teacher. “Shawnelle, it’s Alice. May I come in?”

“Please,” I called. “I’m upstairs. First door to the right.”

The creaky stairs announced Alice’s ascent. “How are you?” she asked. We talked while Alice gingerly perched on my bed. We chatted about my boys and my pregnancy and the weather and church.

“Well,” she said after a bit, “many ladies have asked to prepare meals for you. I thought we should make a schedule, maybe every other night?” Alice’s smile was warm.

“I don’t know,” I said. “That’s so much. Too much.” I was overwhelmed by the thought of my friends providing meals, every other day, indefinitely. I would feel guilty. Like a burden.

“Nonsense,” she said. “I also know how the laundry piles up. We’ll help with housekeeping, too.”

I couldn’t expect our friends to do our wash, an eternal knee-high hill of sweatshirts and socks. Much less wash the floors and do the dishes and deal with the upkeep of a house with a three-to-one ratio of men.

“Alice, we can’t,” I said. “Lonny can do the wash. The boys can help around the house. We’ll manage.”

“Well, I know that Lonny could manage the house. But he has other things to do. Like taking care of those boys. Taking care of you. Let us help your husband help you.”

“It’s too much,” I said. “I’m not comfortable with all that.”

“It’s okay, dear. We’re just sharing God’s love.” She was silent for a moment. Then she squeezed my hand. “Loving God. Loving each other. It’s what we do.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“It’s really that simple,” Alice said. And she nodded her head to confirm the deal.

I remained uncomfortable, but I did relent. Alice and I talked details. And the very next evening, our friend Brenda delivered a hot meal at five o’clock sharp. And Mary, another friend, picked my boys up for classes at their school. Janet swept my floors and left with my hamper under her arm like it was the most natural thing in the world. Nancy cleaned my bathrooms. Karen delivered a yogurt and fruit every afternoon and stayed to listen and encourage and visit and pray.

My days were less lonely as my friends popped in and out. And to my surprise, they never, ever looked tired or frustrated or like they’d rather be somewhere else. And what I saw on each beautiful face surprised me.

Joy.

Plain, simple, unmistakable joy.

At first I was baffled. I’d read my Bible regularly for several years, and I knew that the Lord said that to love Him first and then to love others. But I had never experienced such an outpouring of care.

And a few months later, our household still intact due to the helpfulness of solid, strong, loving helpers, I emerged from the trauma a new woman. I had new strength, a new baby boy, and a healed back. But I also had a few other new things: new perspective, purpose, and pleasure.

When I had needed help, help was there. After I healed, I wanted to help someone else. Sometimes that meant a meal. Sometimes help with childcare. Sometimes it meant just listening to a sweet sister as she shared from deep places in her heart.

And a funny thing happened. The joy that my friends had shown when they’d taken care of me? I understood that now. I was no longer bewildered because that same joy had taken residence in my own heart. It grew stronger and stronger as I provided care, not just for my own family, but for other families, too.

“What are you doing, Mama?” my third baby boy asked one day, when he’d grown into a young man of two years old.

“I’m baking bread for the neighbor. Her knee is broken and is in a cast,” I said.

“But why are you baking bread?” he asked.

I pulled a chair to the counter so he could stand, see, and help.

“Because it’s sharing God’s love with someone who needs it. He tells us to take care of others.”

“Oh,” he said. My little guy’s eyes were wide. “I think I understand.” Then he smiled. Ear-to-ear.

I smiled wide, too, reflecting the peace and purpose in my heart.

“Loving God, loving others,” I said. “It’s just what we do.”

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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