She was stunning. The thing I noticed first was her mahogany hair pulled into the perfect ponytail and loose curl that cascaded down her back in satisfying spiral. Her makeup was impeccable, creating smooth, glowing, wrinkle-free skin and accenting her eyes above anything else. Her lips shone with the lightest pink gloss and her nails were clean and manicured. Her expensive clothes and jewelry only added to the perfection.
As she approached my area at the back of the plane, I couldn’t stop staring at her. Her dress was professional yet feminine and fun. Her gold jewelry gave just the amount of glitter to the ensemble, and the nude heels she wore punctuated her toned calves. She was everything our culture holds high. I wanted to be her.
I could see all the men around me couldn’t take their eyes off her either, and I couldn’t blame them.
But then she spoke.
“Ugh! It’s so crowded!” she huffed as she tried to find a spot for her carry-ons. “Why the —- do they always make us cram our —- in these planes?”
My brown furled, and I wanted to say, “Lady, it’s fine, just check another compartment. This is so not a big deal.” But a kind man near me stood up to help her just as she opened the compartment where his bag was stored. He said, “You’re welcomed to move my bag if that would help.” To which she bluntly remarked, “Well, I was going to regardless, but I’m glad you’re okay with it!”
And instantly, she was no longer beautiful to me. More like an M&M: a colorful shell, but all dark on the inside.
A few long minutes later, she managed to get her bag situated above, and she sat down in her chair three rows in front of me. The quiet plane was interrupted once again by her incredibly loud voice.
“Did you make it to your gate?” she said into her cell phone. “…Ugh, they sat me at the back of this tiny plane. I couldn’t believe it!…Oh yeah, I told them this is not acceptable…I will be leaving a horrible review. This is not okay.” Then, her conversation turned to work, and it was clear she was good at what she did there in Chicago. As the conversation wrapped up, she said, “I’ll be back tonight. I’m just headed to a client in Sioux Falls, uh, Iowa.” All of us nearby heard her mistake.
“South Dakota,” corrected her seatmate politely.
“Iowa, South Dakota, whatever. It’s some —— little town in the Midwest.” I cringed at her blatant rudeness amidst a plane full of people heading to Sioux Falls. The man in front of me slowly shook his head in disgust.
We were now taxiing to the runway, and I was surprised the flight attendant wasn’t asking her to get off the phone. My guess is she had already bullied him, too.
Stubborn self-sufficiency is ugly.
How much more beautiful would this woman have been if she had smiled, asked for permission to move the man’s bag, welcomed his help, and been gracious in her following conversations? How much more beautiful would she have been if she would have graciously just accepted help?
The words “help me” are not weak words. In today’s culture, it takes a rare strength to admit you don’t have it all together.
My first full day in Sioux Falls, while skimming social media, I came across a video clip of Joni Erickson Tada, a woman in her sixties who has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident at the age of 17. She is an incredible woman who became famous when the Today Show featured her beautiful paintings she created with her mouth holding the paintbrush. Since then, she has been appointed to the Disability Advisory Committee for the U.S Department of State and has created a program where inmates build wheelchairs for children who need them in impoverished countries. She also has a radio program and has written many books. The world might not envy Ms. Tada and her lack of self-sufficiency due to paralysis, but I was encouraged to hear her story and of the ways she has changed the world because of that wheel chair. To me, it appeared that despite her circumstances, she had “made it”.
But as the interview came to a close, the host asked her how she was doing now. She smiled and then admitted that every day she deals with constant pain. At the mention of this, she teared up and said, “every day I wake up and the first words out of my mouth are, “Lord, help me.”
It was absolutely beautiful.
What a contrast to the woman I saw on the plane just two days earlier. Joni used a wheelchair, which is not an item you’d see on a catwalk in NYC, yet her gentle eyes sparkled with the Hope that had changed her life, and her honesty and her need for her God were brilliantly bright.
In the week that followed my trip to Sioux Falls, I would be preparing to head back into the classroom as a fifth-grade teacher, something I never expected a year ago.
A year ago, I took this picture of Tage on what would have been my first day of school:
A year ago this day, I was experiencing what I knew at the time were literally the best weeks of my life up to that point. After years of waiting, I was finally a mother. I got to stay home with my boy, and the hope of the future of a growing family seemed to burst with joy and possibility.
Oh, how quickly life changed. One year later, the little boy is gone, and I feel like a child who has finally received the puppy she’s always wanted only to have it taken away a few days later. I still don’t understand it.
The Sunday before school started, I cried the whole day. The heels of my heart were pressing into the sand as I felt I was being dragged somewhere I didn’t want to go, yet I knew I had no power to stop it.
“Lord, help me,” I cried. I had absolutely no other words to say.
And He did. I made it to school every day that first week, and each day was a little better (and a little less teary) than the last. Co-workers welcomed me back with notes and journals and chocolate and necklaces and hugs. Lots of hugs. Parents smiled (or teared up) as they told me how glad they were that I was back. Slowly, I remembered what I enjoy about teaching, and I found a way to be grateful that I got to return to my same school, same grade, and same exact classroom.
By Friday night, I was completely exhausted and already fighting a cold. Josh asked me how the first week went, and I told him that my counselor was right: going back to work is a very important step. Busy days are good. God knew we’d all go crazy if we didn’t have work to do, and it felt good to have a purpose again. “You look happier,” he said. And I was.
Each day, I still battle the whys. My heart still breaks in a million pieces when I see the face of the sweetest boy I’ve ever known. He’s taken a piece of my heart with him, and I wonder how I will face these months and years ahead. But I’m remembering that prayers don’t have to be long and wordy; they just have to be honest. Many days, “Lord, help me” is all I can whisper in the moment I feel over-whelmed with sorrow or overcome with fear of my future.
September 23rd marks one year since we were given Tage’s terminal diagnosis. That day was followed by the seven most bittersweet weeks of my life until he passed away in November. I am dreading these weeks. If I’m honest, I just want them to be over. I don’t want to re-live the pain, but I know walking through these next weeks is part of the healing process, too. I just don’t want to.
I’m learning to pray “Lord, help me,” because God knows I can’t do these next seven weeks on my own.
Last week, sitting at my desk while the students were at lunch, the burden began to press harder. The honeymoon was over, and we were in full swing at school again. I had never been so exhausted in all my life. I questioned whether teaching again was the right decision, because at that moment, I had nothing left to give.
“Lord, help me,” I prayed silently as I picked up my phone to check missed calls. Suddenly, there was a text from a friend’s mom which simply said these two verses:
“Those who know Your name will trust in you, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10
“I said, ‘I am falling,’ but Your constant love, O Lord, held me up. Whenever I am anxious and worried, you comfort me and make me glad.” Psalm 94:18-19
That’s me! I am falling right now, I thought. I took a deep breath as I remembered these truths, and I wrote them down on paper.
Two minutes later, I got an email from a friend whose tender words were so soothing to my soul in that moment. Later that day, another email arrived from another friend with encouragement for me. When I got home that night, flowers were delivered to our house from a college friend who I haven’t spoken to in years. All this after a week of little encouragement (because we were all busy getting back into the school groove).
Thank you, Lord. He always shows up just when we need it.
I continued to think about those two verses as the next day came, and I noticed there was a phrase I had over looked before: for You have never forsaken those who seek you.
Was I seeking Him? Honestly, no. I had been so wrapped up in the start of school that I had not cracked my Bible for weeks, and I hadn’t taken specific time to pray either. I was trying to do it on my own.
I set my alarm for 5 a.m. (ugh), and when it went off, I hit snooze. True.
So, the next day, I was not going to let the snooze button win. I got up, showered, poured my coffee, and sat down with my Bible. I did finally finish the Old Testament this week, and there in Zechariah, I was reminded of this treasure:
“’It is not by force nor by strength, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6
There was a note in my Bible in my own handwriting to look at Matthew 11:28. So, I did.
“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’” Matthew 11:28
“Yes, Lord, please help me,” I prayed. “I’ve been trying to do this alone, but I need YOU. I need Your strength. I need You to carry this burden, to hold me up. I’m falling! I can’t DO anything to lessen the grief. I can’t DO anything to make time speed up during these next difficult weeks. I can’t DO anything to fill the hole in my heart. Only you, Lord. I need You. Please, help me.”
And He has. And He will in the coming difficult weeks, I am sure of it.
Nothing warms a loving Father’s heart more than when His child comes to Him, asking Him to do what only He can do. He will always be quick to come!
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalm 34:18
“The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts. “ Isaiah 57:15
First Samuel 16:7 tells us that,
“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I may be awed by jewels and makeup and tiny waists, but God looks past the colorful shell. To God, beauty is deeper than gold and glitz and I’ve got it together.
If I want to become more beautiful to Him, I need to start by humbling my heart, by offering some of the most beautiful words to His ears: “Lord, help me.”