A little help

As I was sitting on the sidelines of one of my sons’ soccer games recently, I heard a familiar question, “A little help?” It was part request, part heads-up. A ball had rolled from one of the nearby fields and was heading toward ours. The kicker wanted us to stop it from rolling onto the area where a game was being played, but also he wanted someone to toss it back to him.


A dad scooped up the ball and sent it back to the boy, and play continued on our field. Though the exchange was commonplace and unremarkable, I kept thinking about the phrase: a little help? It wasn’t formulated as an actual question, but it was a request for assistance.


I suppose the phrase stuck with me because I’ve been pondering how much help I’ve needed help lately myself. I started using a hearing aid a few weeks ago to help with the hearing loss in my left ear. I had told myself for a while that I could live with the constant buzzing and the muffled sounds on that side of my head. I’d just work around it and pivot my good ear toward what I wanted to hear, I told myself. It was just an annoyance. Eventually, with the encouragement of my husband, I saw a few medical professionals and now I can hear pretty well again.


It’s funny how many of us refuse to ask for help. It’s silly, really. I’ve been blessed many times to be on the giving side of the arrangement, so I know there are plenty of people ready and willing to step in and help, so why am I so reluctant to be on the receiving end?


Maybe it’s because we’re taught to be independent D.I.Y.-ers who just need to figure it out. Maybe it’s a control thing, and we don’t want to give the task to someone who’s going to botch and blunder his way through it when we could get it done so much better. Or maybe we’re afraid of what others will think. “Will they say I’m a bad ____ (mom, wife, daughter, employee, neighbor, Christian, etc.)?”


There are plenty of excuses not to ask for help, but there’s also countless reasons why our reluctance is complete foolishness. That’s why we have to ask ourselves the tough questions: Are my claims of independence and high standards actually plain arrogance? Is my worrying over what others will think superficial and, let’s face it, such a waste of time? Am I harming the people I’m in charge of caring for when I don’t seek assistance for myself?


Another important question I’ve had to ask myself is this: Does my refusal to ask for help from the people in my life translate to how I petition my Heavenly Father through prayer? In other words, if I don’t use the help memuscle with the loving humans around me, can I be expected to use it with my loving God? In Timothy Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he says that “Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.” I sure could use more of God’s presence, and prayer is the door to enter into it.


So, in case no one has told you this today, it’s okay to ask for help. Actually, it’s not just okay, it’s a holy command. We read over and over in Scripture, that we should cry out. And Isaiah 30 gives us an example of God’s willingness to help: “So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help…He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.” Take that first step to get the help you need.


I am a logophile, a lover of words. When I’m attempting to write something—fiction or non-fiction—I work diligently to dig up the most perfect word from the disorganized quarry that is my mind (especially lately). When I find that prized word, an amazing feeling washes over me. Instead of a runner’s high, I get a writer’s high. My heart pops and stutters. My breath catches in my chest.


On average, the words I love the most aren’t necessarily long ones with complicated origins. Not often choosing lengthy words like perspicacious and parsimonious and preantepenultimate (which, by the way, means third from the end), my preferred words could be easily understood by kindergarteners. Though my favorite words are often only constructed of one or two syllables, they evoke feelings and clearly conjure up a scene for the reader.


I love fanciful words that remind me of the magic of nature, like wind and whisper. I think of invisible, curly threads wafting up and down with a backdrop of a brilliant, blue sky. Ungraspable, no matter how many times you reach out, but you smile broadly as you chase after them.


I love welcoming words that remind me of rocking my babies, like near and held. There’s a warmth to these words, an invited closeness, a safety. When my husband holds me with his strong arms and I bury my face in his chest, I can feel the tenseness in my shoulders relax and a giant sigh escape from deep inside me.


I love lonely words that remind me of ripples in a still pond, like echo and shadow. These words have sound and shape, while holding a certain degree of melancholy. They conjure a vision of a lone hiker on a cliff, shouting his name into an empty canyon as he stares down into the darkness made from the imposing rock faces surrounding it.


But the interpretations of these words are based on my own experiences. You could ask a hundred other people what connections these words make for them, and you’d get a hundred different replies. This is the power of words, and what makes them both life-giving and dangerous. It’s impossible to remove ourselves from our own experiences as we look out at the world, and yet it’s a task we must exercise daily.


The word wind might mean a pleasant, gentle beachside breeze to me, but if you mention it to someone who’s lost everything in a tornado, that person would have a different reaction.


The word shadow might remind me of walking my son to school as we discuss the lengths of our silhouettes, while someone else might interpret shadows to be the presence of overbearing figures in his life.


The word held imparts happiness as I am often the giver and receiver of welcomed embraces, but the idea of being restrained evokes only pain for someone who’s freedom and safety is frequently restricted.


This is why language is so important. We must find the words to build up and empower others, not destroy them so that we seem elevated. Whether it be a voice shouted in peaceful protest echoing off the boarded-up windows of a business or a whisper of encouragement to those near us, the words must be intentional and designed to edify. As author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “When language fails, violence becomes a language.” So now it’s my turn to listen.

I will change your name

When my husband and I found out we were having twins, we were a bit like Noah filling his ark—most everything came in 2’s. Two cribs, two car seats, two bouncy seats, a double stroller. We also had to come up with two names.

Before we knew we would have twin girls, we came up with a boy name and a girl name: Sam and Ella. They were short and sweet and sounded pretty good together. “Sam! Ella! It’s time for dinner!” “Sam and Ella, did you brush your teeth?” But the more I practiced saying the names aloud, the more I realized that they weren’t all that great as a combo. If said quickly, Sam and Ella can evolve into Sam ‘n Ella. Then it’s just a short trip to salmonella. Not wanting to name my babies after the bacteria that causes food poisoning, we kept looking.

Luckily, we had two beautiful baby girls—Lucy and Ella. (And it was only a couple of times that someone thought I said Lucy and Ethel.)

Coming up with that perfect name can be a fairly stressful task for expecting parents. So much seems to ride on a person’s name. Does it sound good paired with a powerful handshake? “Nice to meet you. My name is (insert assertive sounding name here).” Or how about: “All rise. The honorable Judge (don’t-mess-with-me name) presiding.”

When I get a chance to do a little creative writing, one of my favorite activities is coming up with characters’ names. For me, it’s the first step in making fictional people real.

Although we place a great deal of weight on naming someone, our names don’t have to forever define us. I love that God takes the time to change the names of some people in the Bible. Abram and Sarai become Abraham (father of a multitude) and Sarah (mother of nations) to show that they would have countless descendants. After Jacob wrestles with God, his negative name changes from “supplanter” (he would unseat his twin brother) to Israel which means “triumphant with God.”

Jesus gave James and John the nickname “sons of thunder,” possibly for their fiery tempers. He took one look at the fisherman Simon and changed his name to Peter which means “rock”.

Most of these new names describe what these people would become, not their present situation. God looked into the future to see that Abram and Sarai, a childless couple, would be parents to more children than the stars in the sky. When others saw an impulsive, inflexible, dirty fisherman named Simon, Jesus saw a firm place (a rock) to build his church.

Though it would be impractical to legally change our names to something new, it is possible to redefine who we are with the help of a mighty God.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea was exceptionally obedient to God’s calling. He was even willing to live out the most inconvenient morality play in human history. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute and give their children specific names to describe God’s displeasure with the Israelites. Their first child was named after a massacre that occurred in a place called Jezreel. The next two children were named Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”) and Lo-Ammi (“not my people”). That’s pretty harsh.

But our merciful God didn’t leave it there. In the next chapter the Lord explains that He will pursue His sinful people. “I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people.’”

If you feel that your name is Unloved or Unwanted, allow God to change your name and your heart. It is in His power to do it.

Mind Reader

When my sisters and I would come from school in the afternoons, we liked to do what a lot of kids in the 1980’s did: we watched reruns on TV. We mostly watched classic shows from the 1950’s and 1960’s like The Brady Bunch, Leave It to Beaver, and I Love Lucy.

One of my favorites was Gilligan’s Island. Even though it’s been a couple of decades since I watched an episode, I can still conjure up scenes of the Skipper hitting Gilligan with his captain’s hat as easily as if I just saw it yesterday. My sisters and I were lured in by the suspense of the story. We always wondered if the 7 castaways would ever get off the island where they had been shipwrecked after what was supposed to be “a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour.” (I know you’re singing the theme song right now.)

We enjoyed the show so much that we used to pretend to watch episodes of Gilligan’s Island on the back of our parents’ seats in the station wagon during long car trips. We’d ask, “How many more Gilligan’s Islands until we’re there?”

One particular episode has been popping up in my mind a lot lately. In the episode called “Seer Gilligan” our man in the red rugby shirt finds a bush growing special seeds. Gilligan eats some of these seeds and he’s able to read the thoughts of everyone around him. He eventually shares the seeds with the other castaways. At first everything is fine and dandy as long as the thoughts they are thinking are kind. Then it gets ugly. They eat the seeds and read each other’s minds and think hurtful things. By the end of the show, Gilligan burns the seeds and the bush to restore peace to the island (at least until the next head hunter invasion or cosmonaut landing).

I find it interesting that the castaways are so surprised by what each other are thinking. How was Ginger so surprised that MaryAnn thought she was lazy? Was Skipper really shocked to learn that they all blamed him for the shipwreck? But sometimes, we can’t explain the thoughts and actions of another person. Having the ability to read another’s thoughts only gives us insight into that moment. We lack context.

Context is what I see lacking lately. My Facebook newsfeed is full of people fuming about something—candidates and elections, marches and interviews, speeches and nominations. People post angry rants and are answered by a string of widely varying comments. Then they seem surprised that there are so many differing opinions.

Sometimes I read these posts and comments and I’m amazed, too. Who are these people who think this way? How could he/she feel like this when he/she has had this advantage/disadvantage or life experience? And why would he/she post that in such a public place?


Regardless of how you voted in November, speak to others from a place of kindness.

Regardless of how you feel about free speech or gun rights or prayer in schools, pause before you resort to calling names.

Regardless of your nationality, gender, race, or religion, practice Jesus’ admonition to His Apostles. He said, “When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” (The Message)

Jesus didn’t tell them to go to the temple steps and publicly ridicule those who live there. This is a face-to-face interaction. If you aren’t brave enough or skilled enough to lovingly disagree in person, then maybe the comment section of Facebook isn’t the place either. Check your motivation. Do you want to be right for your sake only or for the revelation of God’s glory?

Unless you can not only read the minds of others but also see all the places they’ve been hurt and mistreated in their lives, don’t respond from the lofty heights of righteous indignation. Instead, obey Micah 6: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

I’m grateful Gilligan destroyed those seeds because I don’t really want to read anyone’s mind. That’s the easy way out. Let’s do the hard work of restoration and peace-making.


It happens to everyone at some point: you sit down to eat at a restaurant with family and friends. After perusing the lengthy menu, you order. When the waiter delivers the food, it hits you—regret. You wonder why in the world you ordered the BLT when you see the plate of sizzling fajitas set down in front of your friend. Or why you thought it was a good idea to get the light portion of the garden salad when you see your husband’s giant Porter House steak and baked potato.


We experience regret on many levels for as many reasons—my fault, your fault, our fault, no one’s fault. Whether some evil was done intentionally or completely by mistake, we’ve let someone down and we regret the role we played. Just or unjust, we suffer the consequences. What happens next is where we show our true selves. The extent regret shapes our future relationships and self-worth is one of the most crucial factors to our happiness.


After some thought, prayer, and frank discussions with friends, I’ve come up with the following analogy: you’ve jumped into the sea with no life jacket and no plan. Upon further reflection you realize jumping was a huge mistake. You flail your arms wildly; angry with yourself and the so-called friends who let you jump. But angry arm-flailing isn’t helping the situation.


In the distance you see four buoys bobbing up and down and you realize they are there to lead you to the other side. You must swim to each buoy and rest before moving on. Here are the four places you must cross:


  1. See the challenging situation as an opportunity. You’ve always wanted to get better at being you and here’s the perfect excuse to improve! It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Use this painful time to grow. Don’t waste it.
  2. Forgive yourself and others. Regret is a battle with shame. Hanging on to the bitterness that comes with the sins of betrayal, selfishness, miscommunication, and misdeeds is mostly harmful to yourself. The sooner you can extend forgiveness, the sooner you can heal.
  3. Be thankful. Regret prevents us from seeing the blessings we have. When we concentrate only on the pain we’ve caused and/or endured, we’re cheating ourselves of enjoying the sanctifying power of gratitude.
  4. Move on with the help of God and your community. When an error becomes public, it feels like your flaws and mistakes are hanging out of you like a gruesome, bleeding wound. A friend who continues to work through the pitfalls of regret told me “the first place your mind goes is to the depressing place of loneliness. You feel like you are all alone. The Biblical version of community shatters that loneliness.” When you can be transparent about your sin and find love and understanding in spite of your transgressions, you can move past it with a lesser burden of regret.


Regret and bitterness nearly always go together but that doesn’t have to be your default setting. As my friend told me, “After you’ve really messed up, regret and bitterness is the first stop but don’t make it a rest stop.”

Sharing our Sorrows

I am the queen of strange injuries, allergies, and illnesses. For instance, a few weeks ago, while drying the dishes after my sister-in-law washed them, a cup full of silverware tipped over on the counter. One of them—an innocent-looking table knife—fell on the top of my foot, slicing a tendon. That tiny tendon’s main job was to make my next-to-baby toe mobile. Without it’s efforts, that toe has retired from service to his four brothers. It flops. It gets annoyingly tucked under the toes that flank him on either side. In other words, it’s worthless.


When I’m sitting for a period of time, I forget the accident happened. There’s no sharp pain and it stopped bleeding long ago. But as soon as I stand up, and walk barefoot across my floor, I remember. When it fails to clear a door threshold and I nearly lose a toenail, I think, “Oh, yeah. That’s right…I forgot.”


This is what it can feel like to live with an ongoing sorrow. The original, agonizing pain may be gone but there’s a dull ache that remains.


This pain may be the result of the death of a loved one or the end of a marriage. It may be the mourning of the life that was never realized—never married, never had children, never became that person. There may be moments when you don’t think about what or who is missing, but those moments are fleeting. Before you can settle into breathing without this sorrow bearing down on your chest like an anvil, a photo or a note reminds you of what’s been lost (or never found).


When C.S. Lewis lost his wife, he wrote about grief. He said, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” You can survive it, but the sorrow remains. “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.”


So how does one live with this kind of relentless sorrow? Find someone to help you carry it. Even if it’s been months or years or even decades since you came face to face with your personal nightmare, speak it to another person. Now, it can’t be just anybody. The listening ear you’re looking for should be empathetic. He should not say phrases like: “Well, you think that’s bad…” or “It could be worst. At least…” This listening friend isn’t there to repair or change history. He’s there to absorb a bit of the pain, to say: “I’m so sorry.”


We were never promised an easy life. In fact, Christians are assured of persecution. But we’re also called to carry one another’s burdens. If you are overwhelmed by sorrow, find someone to listen to your story today.


I have never had a broken bone. I don’t know whether to chalk this up to my calcium intake or my cautious nature (neither of which are particularly high), but either way, I’ve avoided it. My kids, on the other hand, are another story.


One of my daughters has suffered from a broken arm three times. Each time, she was doing something she’d done many times before: climbing into her booster seat at the table, sliding down the short indoor slide in the playroom, swinging on the swing set on the school playground.


The older of my two sons has been more inventive with his breaks. He broke his elbow sliding to block a goal while playing soccer…by himself…in our carpeted basement. He also broke his finger while trying to crack open a coconut in the church parking lot during Vacation Bible School.


Last week, we received word that our youngest child, our adopted son we’re trying to bring home from Africa, broke his collarbone. My husband assured me it was going to be fine. He said if a kid was going to break a bone, this was a good one because it heals quickly. This was some comfort but my heart was hurting for our four-year old son who was in pain and thousands of miles away from me.


To help me visualize his recovery, I asked my husband for an explanation of how bones heal. He told me how the body is designed for just this kind of situation. He said almost as soon as the break occurs, special cleansing blood clots form around the area. The immune system sends in cells to clean out the break to prevent infection. Then a soft callus is formed, followed by a hard callus. These protective barriers cocoon the miracle happening inside: new bone cells growing on both sides of the break, meeting to bridge the gap. Finally, the body sends in special cells to break down the hard callus and remodel the bone to its original state.


When I first heard that our young son was suffering from a broken collarbone, I was distraught. No mother wants her child to be in pain. It’s human nature to avoid suffering. But the Scriptures tell us that suffering—both physical and emotional—is part of life. We stumble and fall. We get sick. Our bones can break and so can our hearts. Fortunately, there’s a plan for healing. There’s a system in place to clean out the wound and build it back up. It may take weeks or it may take years. The broken section may never look exactly the same as it did before but healing is possible.


“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalms 34:18