This isn’t meant to offend anyone as I have VERY FREQUENTLY said the same phrase to many, many friends….be sure to call if you need anything. Guess what? No one has ever called me! Am I surprised? (Relieved?) It makes me feel good to offer help; it’s like I’m doing what a good friend should do. But really, what am I actually doing? There may be a handful of people who actually call when they need help, but I am not one of them and it would seem my friends aren’t either. Honestly, I’m not going to call someone and say, “Remember when you offered to help? Can you scrub my tub? De-clutter my counter? Make the kids practice the piano? Change the sheets on all the beds? Get the oil changed on the minivan?” Post-surgery, there were a number of little things that needed to be done, and it bugged me that I couldn’t do anything about them as I was confined to the sofa and flying high on pain meds.
[Ok, in the name of full disclosure, there have been some emergency situations where I have HAD to call people. Like the time I took my daughter to the emergency room and needed someone to pick up my son from another location. Or, two weeks post-surgery when I had a friend drive me to the store so I could buy elastic waist stretchy pants as all the abdominal swelling caught me by surprise. In a desire to make sure I had pants, I think anyone would have taken me on that errand!]
Because I have a husband and three children who are not toddlers, my thinking was, “I’m not calling someone else when there are four able-bodied people who live here.” However, there were extra circumstances in the few weeks before my surgery that deeply affected our family. Our eldest son lost his friend in a tragic drowning accident when all the high school youth group boys were away on a missions trip. A week after the funeral, my nine-year-old daughter fell and badly broke her arm, requiring surgery to have titanium rods inserted into both forearm bones. She ended up in a fingertips-to-armpit cast. Throw in my surgery and a four-day hospitalization and it was a stress filled month, with lots of tears shed.
During this time, the acts of kindness and love showered on our family were overwhelming and humbling! Our friends and family jumped into action, taking care of our whole family.
It was the many gestures of care that fully opened my eyes to the fact that while offering help is nice, doing something specific is the way to go.
This is by no means a complete list, but here are some ideas of how to reach out to someone in need. All these acts of love were extended to us, but if I included every single one, you would be reading for a couple hours! (And, to list all that my mom did to keep our home, our family and home schooling up and running when I was not….it would take a book!)
SHARE RESOURCES: Some friends with extra Cubs tickets gave them to our son so he and my husband could enjoy a night out. It was a prefect break from all the tear-filled days and nights our son had been going through after burying his friend. It did not erase what happened, but it was a temporary break. And who doesn’t need a little break from the day-to-day reality of sadness and loss? It is the little breaks that keep us going and give us hope that we can smile again. Knowing that music is my son’s “language” another friend made him a CD of music. She also wrote a letter explaining why she included each song, and what messages of hope and promise were to be found.
Think of what you can do to minister to a friend in need and go for it! Have you read an encouraging book with a message that could help a friend? Buy it for her! I had one friend who knew of my “swelly belly” woes and the next week, she delivered a pair of her super comfy pj’s for me to borrow.
MEAL PLANNING: A dear friend set up a meal schedule where our dinners were provided, three times a week for the first six weeks of my recovery! My husband was so appreciative in knowing the responsibility of making dinner was very frequently removed from his plate. (I was comforted in knowing the kids were eating more than chicken nuggets or hotdogs every night!) Many people like to provide meals, but to have someone spearhead and organize all the meals is invaluable. Two easy resources to use are www.mealbaby.com and www.mealtrain.com.
Even if you don’t cook, or don’t have time to cook, you can still help! We had two friends bless us with restaurant gift cards and two other friends delivered big, ready-to-cook meals from Costco!
FLOWERS: This one seems so obvious, but how many times have you actually brought flowers to a friend who didn’t have a baby? My mother-in-law had flowers delivered to my daughter by a florist, a HUGE “first” for a little girl. Family and friends also brought flowers, and she was so proud of them that she insisted on taking pictures of each arrangement. I also had flowers brought to me a few times and you can’t help but smile and be cheered by a beautiful floral bouquet!
Flowers are easy – every grocery store has a selection. Go seasonal and get a basket of mums. Or an evergreen centerpiece. Or an Easter lily. Flowers are a guaranteed smile generator!
DO WHAT THEY LOVE: People who know me know that I have a thing for coffee. An all out love affair might be a more accurate description. Not once, not twice, but TEN times during recovery, friends stopped by to deliver some form of hot coffee. Talk about feeling the love! By general standards, it was a simple gesture, but it meant the world to me. I knew there was thought and love poured into each cup of coffee! My daughter received the same thoughtful “deliveries” during her broken arm/surgery. Friends stopped by with things that make a kid smile: a fruit smoothie, new stuffed animals, silly bands, balloons, games, favorite candy, pens for signing the cast, a gift card to her favorite coffee shop. She remained in constant awe of the on going out pouring of care.
Whether a $1 or $20 gift, the result was the same – a huge smile and the feeling of being loved. Think of a friend who needs to feel some care and support…what does he/she love? Then, do it! A bakery muffin? Hot chocolate? A new release book to read during a time of recovery? A scented candle?
GET CREATIVE: It’s been firmly established that I have amazing friends and their wonderful creativity should be copied! Friends brought cooking magazines for me to peruse, hand lotion and lip balm to ward off the dry air in the hospital, a favorite box of tea, a pad of sticky notes to jot down the things I needed to remember for later…the list goes on! One friend stopped by with a grocery bag full of fruits and veggies, and we were all thrilled to find Honeycrisp apples in the bag! Another friend went to a used book sale and got some travel books about my dream destination for me to enjoy. An autumn-themed cookie bouquet was delivered to the house. (A wonderful alternative to flowers for anyone with hay fever or flower allergies.)
Aren’t these creative and very do-able ideas? It takes some extra thought, but your friends are worth it! A decade ago, just days before having another baby, a friend came over to give me a pedicure! I would NEVER have called and ask that a friend give me a pedicure, but I didn’t refuse it when she and said, “I’m coming over to do this as my gift to you.” When a great idea pops into your head, either do it right away, or write it down so you don’t forget.
MAKE SPECIFIC OFFERS: If you are unsure how to help a friend in need, suggest some specific ideas to him/her and see where it leads. Place yourself in their shoes and imagine what would be helpful. A number of times, I had various friends call and say, “I’m at the grocery store right now. What can I pick up for you?” We usually needed something, and they were more than happy to pick up milk, bread, cheese or eggs. A few times when different friends stopped over for a visit, they would ask if any one of the kids needed to be driven anywhere, as I was still restricted from driving and my husband was not home. I took them up on the various offers to drive the kids to school for evening choir rehearsal or work or youth group or baseball practice. I had a couple crazy friends come to visit who insisted on washing some dishes and cleaning the counters while I sat and we chatted.
When you’re out and about running errands, think of how you can double up your efforts to help a friend. Running to the post office? Ask if any packages need to be mailed or stamps purchased. Going to the library? Offer to return their books. Will you be at the grocery store? Ask if they want a movie from the rental kiosk. When you are taking your garbage cans to the curb and back again, grab your neighbor’s and do the same. If you look for ways to be helpful, you WILL find them!
(As a side note: If you think it will be an added stress to your friend to appear unannounced at her door with flowers, coffee, a bag of groceries, etc., just say, “I can’t come in, but I just wanted you to know we care.” Receiving the message of being loved is never stressful!)
Although this seems to be an over-used phrase in this blog, please do not under estimate the power of thoughtful care in the smallest gesture!!! After the past couple months, I know that I will be offering help to others in very specific ways. If you have kids, just think of the example you are setting as you strive to teach them to be “other” focused. Enlist their help and your efforts have just doubled themselves!
It is unrealistic to assume we can do everything for everyone in need. Sometimes there are time and distance restraints. (This is when email and snail mail works the best.) But, do what you can, for who you can, when you are able. Proactively look for ways to bless others. Let God use you to be a light of encouragement and a source of generosity to those He has placed in your life. And, generosity isn’t limited to giving money…it is the giving of YOURSELF, in some way, to love on another.