Bag Ladies

I know a lot of really strong women. For example, I know a woman who, right now, is caring for her husband who earlier this week had a tumor removed from his brain and was sent home from the hospital less than 48 hours post-op.  And it’s not like she was just sitting around eating bonbons and resting up for this very taxing time in her life.  No, this comes on the heels of more than a couple decades of married life, raising children, working full time, and navigating the everyday stressors that all of us face.

Another woman I know is married to a high-level professional.  She gracefully carries the responsibilities that come with being the wife of someone in his position while also being mindful of the needs of her aging mother, her married daughter, and her young adult son.  For as long as I’ve known her, she has been ‘on-call’ for one crisis or another, yet she still thinks to make me gluten-free snacks, to collaborate on planning a women’s retreat that she won’t even be able to attend, to volunteer at a family business every week, and to listen to and encourage those around her.

This whole blog could be example after example of the women I’ve been blessed to know over the years.  I picture them smartly dressed, sitting in the drivers’ seats of their cars, hands at 10 and 2, looking from side to side and straight ahead, driving toward their destinations ever mindful of oncoming traffic. They see a familiar person standing on the edge of the road, so they stop to offer a ride. They notice a friend’s mailbox overflowing, and they stop and carry its contents to the door with a smile before heading back on their way. They fit in a full day of work, a quick stop at the grocery, a phone call to a child or a parent, and a workout before heading home to start a load of laundry and transport something edible from the fridge to the table. They are on the move, and they are happy to be.  They enjoy their lives. They want to be available to the people they love.  They enjoy feeling connected.

Each of these women looks so swift and efficient that you might not notice the bag on her back, strapped on tightly so that she can keep moving. What’s in the bag? Information, mostly.  The knowledge that her husband is really stressed about a situation at work.  The thought that her daughter is trying to navigate school and work and finances as a young adult.  The nagging feeling that she hasn’t seen her parents in a few months. The grocery list.  Her son’s recent injury and his need for a medical consult. The name of the plumber who has to be called. The way the cashier looked at her. The situation her friend told her about last Tuesday. Her retirement fund. The shoes that need to be polished. The need to make a dentist appointment. A work deadline.

The bag has been pretty full for a while, but she still seems to be able to heft it around. She hasn’t missed a day of work. The fridge has been well-stocked.  Every kid has been picked up and dropped off at the appropriate place and time.

But then something gives.  A diagnosis.  An accident.  An argument.  A crisis.

It doesn’t quite fit in the bag, but she jostles some things around, does some squishing, and keeps stepping, because this is the moment she’s been training for. Her people need her, so she doubles down and powers through. She manages even more than she ever thought possible. For months. Yeah, her face might look a little more drawn. Her words might be a little clipped, but people understand. Look at the stress that she’s under.  She’s a rock, isn’t she? Look at all she’s managing.

But in a subtle moment, when she isn’t even aware that the crisis has begun to subside, comes the need to shift the weight. She’s exhausted, finally. She has been carrying too much for too long. She’s got to sit down, loosen the straps, and look inside the bag.

It’s a time for inventory really.  At a time when she doesn’t really have the time for an inventory. No matter. It’s mandatory.  So, she looks.  She places her hands on each item. She sets them out around the room. As she surveys the array, she determines that a few things can go in the trash. She can’t even remember putting them in the bag.  Some items can be filed under nostalgia, some under forgiven, some under to be discussed, and others under been there, done that.   

But some items need to be held for a little while. They need to be wept over. They need to be introduced to a few trusted friends who will appreciate their significance and meaning. They need to be processed, repackaged, and perhaps finally put on a shelf– maybe a shelf of remembrance, maybe a shelf for trophies.

And way at the bottom of the bag, she might find one or two very heavy items that need to simply be placed on an altar — offered up to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than she could ever imagine doing or asking someone else to do.

Just a few items make it back into the bag, and as she straps it back on, she feels so much lighter. But before she rushes back out the door, back into the driver seat, back onto the highway that was her life, she pauses. She gives thanks for the moment to pause, for the opportunity to turn, for the offer of support. Then, she walks on.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11

Burden bearing

“I don’t want to bother you with my issues.”

Ever said that?

I mean, who wants to share their troubles with the people around them?  Do you really want to hear about my health issues, or my financial difficulty, or my stress at work?  I am sure you have enough problems of your own.  You don’t need me dragging you further into the gutter.

Haven’t you said these things inside your head?  Or even out loud?

Surely we’ve been taught from our childhood, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  We are supposed to smile, say nice things, and put the best construction on everything.  Right?

Yes, and…then there’s the Bible.

Galatians 6:2

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Here’s the thing, I don’t mind carrying your burdens, but I really don’t want you carrying mine.  Right? I mean we all want to rush to the rescue when a friend is in the hospital, or lost a parent, or needs help moving, but we really don’t want to invite anyone in to help us when the basement floods, or our kids are sick, or (gasp) we can’t do everything that we used to be able to do.

But Paul, in Galatians, says, to bear one another’s burdens.  That implies reciprocity.

I think I have established through this blog that I have most of my life been pretty self-sufficient.  I can do it myself, thank you very much.  I don’t need anyone’s help.  I kick butts and take names and God help you if you get in my way.  Notice I said ‘most’ of my life.  For the past couple of years I have been learning a new way.

Last May, at the very end of our school year, as a result of medications I had been taking, I contracted ocular herpes.  Yes, herpes. In my eyes.  (My teenaged daughter who drove me to the eye doctor got a kick out of that.)  Let me just say here that it is miserable.  Other than the itching, burning, and aching of my eyes, they were extremely sensitive to light, so I could not drive for a few days.   During that time, we were having end of year faculty meetings and a faculty luncheon at a restaurant a bit of a distance from the school and from my house.  My daughter dropped me off at school in the morning, but I needed a ride to the restaurant and then from the restaurant to my eye doctor and from the eye doctor to my house, which happened to be in the opposite direction of anyone I worked with.

So, self-sufficient me decided to ask my friend, who lives with severe rheumatoid arthritis, if I could ride with her to the luncheon and then if she would drop me at my eye doctor which was not terribly far out of her way.  She said that would be fine.  I then figured out how I could take public transportation from the eye doctor to my house.  I had done this before, it was no big deal, and it allowed me to be self-sufficient.

But, after the luncheon, my friend took me to the eye doctor and insisted on staying with me and driving me home afterward.  I didn’t want to burden her.  By that time in the day, I knew that we both needed some rest and this would add an hour or more to her day, and to her driving.  But she said to me, “this is something I can do.”  And although it was admitting that I couldn’t do everything by myself, I knew at that moment that I was allowing her into my need.

After the decision to ‘allow her’ to help me, I was so thankful that she was there.  She sat and had coffee with me before my appointment time, and even helped me select the glasses that I now wear.  She drove me to my front door and then headed home.

It was a small thing, driving me home, wasn’t it?  Not really.  It was a big thing for me.  It was a symbol.  It was my admission that I need others, and in that need, I am blessed.  And, you know, I think she was blessed, too.

I know that I am blessed when others allow me into their mess, allow me to walk with them for a minute or a mile, allow me to shoulder part of the burden.  Why would I deprive someone else of joining me in mine?  Mostly because I’m a proud butt-kickin’, name-takin’ soldier.  Or, I was.  Anybody can change.

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.