We were used to the drowning feeling, with two toddlers only 12 months and three weeks apart. I could drive the route to the pediatrician in my sleep (and maybe even did once or twice in those sleep-deprived years). It seemed someone was always sick in that phase of our lives.
But despite our endurance training, we still weren’t prepared for the undertow that was lurking late that summer when our three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. We were already exhausted trying to care for two very young children… and now, our oldest required around-the-clock care and constant monitoring.
It’s a long story (and one that, this side of heaven, I’ll never understand), but we found out a few weeks later that our daughter was spared the fate of her daddy. She did not in fact have type 1 diabetes as he does. While we don’t understand how she avoided a diagnosis that seemed certain, we do sit in profound gratitude to this very day.
For weeks, we fought against that undertow threatening to pull us under. At the time, we couldn’t see an end in sight. Thankfully, we had a community around us providing respite and strength. They swam for us when we could not.
In those few weeks that we thought our daughter had a life-altering diagnosis, we learned a few things about letting people in and accepting help from others. Those lessons have helped us face other challenges as a family, and they have also helped us serve others as they face their own challenges.
Here’s what we learned:
1 | Don’t fight alone.
When you refuse to let others help, no one wins. There is no award given for surviving a crisis on your own. Turning down a life preserver that’s offered to you doesn’t make you strong or brave… but it might make you drown. And you won’t just be taking yourself down, but your family as well. The wisest thing you can do in the moments where you’re drowning is to reach for the outstretched arms around you.
2 | Be a blessing.
When you let others help you, you bless them in return. You know that warm feeling you get when you know you’ve made a difference in someone’s life? Let others experience those warm fuzzies by helping YOU! For people of faith, serving others is a way of serving Jesus (Matthew 25:40). It’s a chance to live out our faith. When you let people serve you, you allow them to grow in their own faith—and you allow them to demonstrate their faith to others as well.
3 | Be honest.
When you’re going through a challenging time, people will ask you how they can help. It would be great if they could mind-read and know exactly what to do… but they can’t. The best way you can receive truly useful, practical help is to be honest about what you do and don’t need. Maybe you have a family of super-picky eaters, or someone has a serious allergy. In that case, maybe a Meal Train isn’t the best way to go. Instead, suggest to friends which grocery store gift cards or restaurant gift cards would be more helpful. Or maybe you need help with childcare during treatment, or someone to mow your grass. Take five minutes to brainstorm a list of what would be most helpful, and be ready to share it when someone asks. Don’t be afraid to include some “please don’ts” in your list too.
4 | Appoint a gatekeeper.
About being honest: sometimes you need to establish boundaries. Depending on your personality, that may be a challenge for you. This is why it’s important to designate a friend or family member—someone who isn’t as emotionally taxed as you are—to be your gatekeeper. This person can be the “bad guy,” letting others know when visits aren’t a good idea, or giving detailed orders when it comes to delivering meals or helping around the house or yard. The last thing you need to worry about during this time is hurting someone’s feelings, so let someone else manage those interactions for you.
5 | Make it personal.
For some people, it’s hard to let others in, especially on an emotional level. If you’re the kind of person who tends to hold things in and not share your feelings with others, this may be the hardest part of letting people help. But the more you can open up and share the hard parts of your family’s journey with others, the better able they will be to both serve you and pray for you. It doesn’t mean you have to start a blog or a CaringBridge page, but even creating a small prayer circle among your friends via a text chain or messaging app will do wonders for your emotional and spiritual well-being. Allow others to be the life preserver that keeps you afloat on the hardest of days. And just remember, one day, you’ll get the chance to…
6 | Pay it forward (or backward?).
Remember, you won’t always be on the receiving end. One day you’ll be able to use all that you’ve learned and experienced to be the life preserver for someone else. Don’t be too proud to receive help now, because your turn to give will come. When it does, you’ll be thankful for all you received that taught you how to show love when it matters most.