When my kids were still really young, and their father wasn’t paying child support, I had to call churches to ask them to help me pay my bills. I didn’t attend church, or have a close one-on-one relationship with God at that point. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know that was a possibility then. But what I did know was that some churches helped people that were struggling financially. If they felt so inclined. I didn’t know why they did it. I just knew they did it.
It’s embarrassing to call places and ask for help. At least it was for me. I felt like I was being such a nuisance to whomever I called. I was embarrassed that I wasn’t able to provide everything I should be able to provide for my children. I didn’t want anyone to think that I thought providing for my kids was their responsibility, rather than mine. I knew that there had to be so many other people in the world who were struggling with a much more dire situation than we were. So, I felt guilty asking for anything that I thought someone else probably needed more than I did. But I was pretty desperate.
Finally after many phone calls, a man from the local Catholic church came to my apartment to go over all of my bills with me, to see how they could help. As he was sorting through my bills, I kept apologizing to him for having to ask for help. I told him that I was certain there were others who were living in a much worse situation than we were. It’s funny to me now, but I kept apologizing to him for having to ask for financial help even though we could afford a television set and microwave. As if being able to afford a television and microwave indicated you were rich! But even then, when I could barely afford food, I recognized what a luxury it was to have those items. Some people don’t even have a home. I think no matter what our situation is, we must always look for our blessings. Because, they are there.
When I think of the situation now, I realize just how silly I must have sounded for apologizing that I had enough money to afford a microwave and television, but couldn’t afford my bills. I think it had more to do with feeling selfish for asking for money that I knew someone else probably needed more than me. But Itruly needed someone to help us! I didn’t know at the time that churches help people in that way because they want to show people, especially unchurched people, God’s love. I can tell you that I’ve never forgotten the way they showed me God’s love. It truly made a positive impact on my life. How have you shown God’s love to others? Or, how have you received God’s love from someone else? I’d love to know!
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans* run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34 NIV)
It’s no secret that I often struggle with wanting to help people for free. My desire to help people is stronger than my desire to make money for myself. Unfortunately after a few years of helping so many people for free, I began to realize that what I was doing was FREE for them, but it came at a cost to me. Once I quit my full-time job, helping people was my only source of income, so I tried to buckle down and do a better job of requiring payment for my help (services).
Back in December, I blogged about how difficult it was for me to charge a young Mom who called for help because she had just found out her 2 1/2 year old daughter had cancer. (You can read more about that here.) She could only afford to have us come help her for a few hours one day and that broke my heart. She still needed our help and I knew it. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and how I could make her life so much simpler, at least in that respect. However, I continued to fight my urge to run over there and help her because I was working on letting my head lead rather than my heart as far as my business dealings go.
Through a very odd set of circumstances after we worked with her initially, I found out that she wanted more help. Without hesitation and with sheer excitement at the thought of it, I made the decision to get a team of professional organizers together and go back to help her family for free for several days and I felt good about it! We got through decluttering and organizing the large majority of their home. I knew that I couldn’t take away the pain they were experiencing from fighting for their daughter’s life, but I knew that by helping them get organized, that would reduce a small portion of their stress.
That was back in March of this year. Sadly, their daughter, Annika lost the battle and was laid to rest October 3rd – exactly one year after the diagnosis. This news shattered my heart into so many pieces. I cannot begin to imagine how Annika’s Mom and Dad are doing. I was always so impressed with how calm and positive her parents were able to be in such a difficult situation.
Although my work with clients is normally confidential, in this particular situation I got permission from her parents to share their story. Annika’s Mom had started a blog when she was first diagnosed and I wanted to be able to share her blog with others. The main reason I wanted to share her blog was because there are opportunities for people to help them financially there. Like all of us, it’s not easy for them to ask for help. However, they need it. We can’t bring Annika back but we can help them with the other day to day hassles and expenses of having a terminally ill child while still trying to be a parent to their other children.
Please keep this family in your prayers and hug the ones you love. We’re never guaranteed a tomorrow. R.I.P. Annika.
Do you spend your days focused on and consumed by your problems? Do you wonder why bad things only happen to you? If you do, I can teach you a little trick that will help you start to forget your problems. It will help you begin to notice how lucky and blessed you really are instead. Ready to hear what the secret is?
Take your eyes off yourself and focus instead on helping someone else.
Did you know that whatever we focus our attention on consumes us and gets bigger? If you’re always thinking about your problems, they take full reign of your attention – front and center all day long. The bigger your focus on them, the more they make you feel slighted, mistreated and eventually you are consumed with self-pity.
When you begin to focus instead on what you have in relation to others less fortunate than you, it puts everything in perspective. I remember back in the really, really lean times when as a single mother, even though I worked full time, I was struggling to put food on my own table. I worked in downtown St Louis, which is somewhere I would never choose to hang out by choice. Every week when I got paid I would literally have just a few dollars left over after paying the bills that had to be paid that week. Without fail, I would walk out the doors on payday and come across someone on the street begging for money. Invariably, I would give them 2 of the 3 dollars I had to my name.
Why on earth would I do that? If you are spending your days walking up and down the street begging for money, you are clearly less fortunate than me. If you are sleeping on downtown sidewalks, you are clearly less fortunate than me. When you look like you haven’t seen a hot shower in weeks, I can only assume it’s been equally as long since you’ve had the pleasure of sleeping in a warm bed. Clearly you are less fortunate than me. Many years later my coworkers would tease me for doing that because they claimed those people that I gave 2 of my 3 dollars to would take that money and buy alcohol with it. I can’t deny I was saddened to think they would waste my money on alcohol. But I have no regrets because I still believe they were less fortunate than me.
Not only have I been the giver, I have found myself on the receiving end of a good deed and it feels amazing! During those same lean years that I was “foolishly” giving 2 of my 3 dollars to homeless people, I was reaching out to churches and other places trying to get help paying my own bills so my power wouldn’t be shut off, or so that I could feed my kids. I’ll never forget that a young couple with a small child “adopted” my kids and I for Christmas. They brought presents for my girls and a bottle of perfume called HOPE for me. They told me the perfume was not intended for me to wear so much as it was to serve as a reminder that there is always hope. They also brought each of my daughters Happy Meals from McDonald’s which was a big treat because we seldom had the opportunity to eat out during those days.
The fact that these people chose to think of others rather than themselves during the holidays was such a complete blessing to me and left a profound impact on my life. But the thing that stands out to me the most in their act of generosity was that they were trying to teach their 6 or 7 year-old daughter to always think of others. What makes this even more amazing was that their daughter did not have a hand. She only had a prosthetic hook for her hand. Talk about someone not focusing on their own problems!
Sadly, my Mom died exactly 1 week after my last post “Her Smile Said It All”. As tragic as it is to lose your Mom, I feel like we couldn’t have asked for it to go any smoother than it did. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003 and was given 6 months to 2 years to live. That was 11 years ago!
She decided early on not to fight the disease with chemotherapy and I can’t help but wonder if that was a blessing in disguise. Either way, the cancer itself didn’t seem to impact her life at all. Then about 3 months ago, she lost control of her right side, almost as if you would if you had a stroke. Within 2 weeks of noticing that initial decline, the doctor told her she could no longer live alone and he sent her home to die. Apparently the cancer had metastasized and spread to her brain and bones.
My brothers and I stayed with her around the clock for the next 5 weeks until she died. It’s amazing to me how much of a decline there was every day. I was the “weekend girl” and was responsible for caring for her each weekend. It was unbelievable how much of a change I saw week to week. I could have never foreseen the night that I got her all dressed up to attend her grandson’s wedding reception, and we posed for the selfies in my last blog post, that when I returned the following weekend, my Mom would no longer be able to communicate or interact with me. I don’t think anything prepares you for that. By the following weekend, she died….peacefully, surrounded by all of her children.
My brothers and I at her funeral.
The blessings in all of this are more than I can count, but here are just a few: 1) She didn’t suffer in pain for very long. It could have went on and on for years, but it didn’t. 2) She got to die at home like she wanted, surrounded by the people she loved. 3.) She could have ended up having to go to hospice which would have cost a fortune! 4) She got to spend the last 5 weeks of her life surrounded constantly by her loved-ones. 5) Exactly 2 weeks before she died, she was all smiles and so excited to go to her grandson’s wedding reception. To me, the fact that she was laughing and having fun with the people she loved 2 weeks before she died, was a gigantic blessing in itself!