My mom had the idea, and I'm in the throes of it. Because I loved it. A "Wall of Men" in our Little Guy's room. My two grandpas - Dirt and Papa. Caleb's two grandpas - Paps and Pop. Our fathers, Alan and Terry. And our brothers: Daniel, Elijah, Tim, Micah, Kevin, Andrew, Joshua, Dude, Jeremiah, Josiah and Joel. One of my projects during this month in Oklahoma was to gather and scan all the individual portraits of the men in Caleb's family. His mom pulled out album after album for me. I chose my favorite, she scanned, and we'd repeat.
Today I chose Joel's picture. I flipped through his album - my first time since having my own little man in me. The pictures of him singing like he's in a choir (songbook and all) with big rainboots on make me laugh out loud. And his scrunch-nose faces. Page after page of that scrunch. His album is happy - full of farm life, birthdays, holidays, animals, family and big big cheeks. I chose my favorite picture: one where he's wearing a yellow tie, doing his scrunch face. I adore it. The pages are obviously coming to an end… and he's still only three. I know there aren't more years of pages to add. I know the album is going to end with a thud. There aren't hospital pictures. Or chemo and bloated and sleeping in a white metal bed pictures. There are some pictures of cute twins in cowboy get-up, making faces in a window sill on a red barn. And then: there is a letter, on the front side of the final page.
A mom writes to her boy and tells him how sad she is to finish this book. Reading "finish" makes my eyes sting. She's sad to finish this book, because she's finishing it without him. She goes on to list the things that come to mind in that moment - the things she misses the most. They were awfully beautiful and dreadful to read, especially while Little Guy butt-butted my belly-button as I took it in. "I miss your little voice." She told a story in her letter about how Joel would ask her to "help me, mommy?" in his final few weeks. Everything was so hard and painful for him. She wrote to him how much she loved to help him, and how she'd hold his hands and lift and carry him. When he was particularly uncomfortable he'd ask "Help me carefully?"
The yellow-tied, rain-booted-choir-boy, bald-baby, scrunch face from a few pages ago. I couldn't help but cry. Oh Joel. "Help me carefully." What sound and sweet words, little brother. I flipped that last page and there were sticker letters spelling out a part of a common verse: "The Lord gives and…" That was all. The Lord gives and. "Takes away" didn't need to be said. The hard white back of the photo-album, with the "Creative Memories" logo made it clear. The Lord gives and… the end. We know what else He does. But He gave. Flip back two pages, and look at what He gave. And He gives still. He gives promise. And Himself. And album-making. And time passing. And grandsons. And sunshine.
And He gives help, carefully.
I've unavoidably meditated on Joel's brilliant phrase for the last few hours. "Careful" is nearly implied in the definition of help: "Make it easier for someone to do something by offering aid; to make more pleasant or bearable; to give assistance or support to." If the "help" isn't actually easing the load, making the situation better, really full of care and ability to know "what makes this situation better?" than it's not much help at all. It's more problem.
Careless, flippant, off-handed, rushed "help" is actually harm. Check the thesaurus. Harm. Obstruction. Hinderance. "Help the weak," the Bible tells us so. And who among us would be confused at the concept when "weak" is a blonde, limp, beautiful, distorted-by-disease child asking with his mouth for food or for the potty or for more blankets? A heavy, tear-filled, eager heart can only carefully help. Maybe even fearfully - so concerned about the welfare of the little guy, I know I'd edge far more on the side of moving too slow, taking more time, and checking with him too often. I'd hate to bring more hurt to him.
But I think carefully helping the other kinds of weak are a sad blind-spot in the church. Full of good intention ("Hey! I'm helping! Serving, even!") and maybe even deep, well-studied doctrine, many are aware of truths and promises and help's about God. Who He is. What He says. What He commands. Militantly, sometimes, church-folk can stomp into the newly burned ashes of a destroyed heart-town and say "Ah-ha! We know what fixes this!" Quickly, the broken is gone and the new-and-improved homes and shops are re-built, the roads are paved, the ashes are swept away. They took care of that! This was me. A true (very true - and not even misapplied scripture) was my handy-dandy construction crew. It's simple, I "helped." Get rid of this, create this - here, I'll even do it for you - and wa-la! All better now!
I spent a lot of my life doing a lot of very, very good building. And a lot of very, very bad helping. I didn't slowly come up to someone in front of their charred home and sit with them, weeping. I didn't ask. I just did. I didn't offer to go through the rubble and mess and see what could be restored and saved. I didn't offer to leave the grieving alone, and give them plenty of time to search and mourn themselves (if they wanted.) I didn't unlock my heart and engage my brain and try to imagine and understand just what this may be like. I didn't listen to stories as much as I offered my two-cents Jesus-girl solution to the "problems" in the stories. I don't think I helped carefully.
And when it was me. When my life was the one on fire. When my memories and feelings were the ones black and impossible-to-breath-through. When my heart needed an ear, not a mouth. When I was weak and silently begging for help. It changed me. And the pat-on-my-back, "you're actually being kind of annoying and clingy… and not trusting God… but I won't say it, I'll just casually throw out this excuse about why I can't really take the time to understand you," Bible BandAid, "God won't give you more than you can handle! Grin!," brief "help" was so hurtful. It made me feel so much worse. It wasn't considerate, caring or careful. And now I knew what it was like to be on that side of it.
I wanted (and treasure) the Hosea 11 help. "I took them up by their arms… I led them with cords of kindness, with bands of love. I became the one who eased the burdens on their jaw. I bent down, and fed them." I learned of Mark 14 help. "Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me." I learned about me and Jesus. I learned about a mother's head rub and silence, letting me cry and duke it out with my Father. I learned about friends who announced that they were coming to get you and take you grocery shopping with them! That's that! I learned about the people who didn't compare and share their heart-hurts with me while I was just trying to work through my own stings. They just simply were there - with their whole hearts and minds. These things "were hidden from the wise and understanding, and have been revealed to little children," like Joel. "Come to me! All! All who are weary and heavy of heart! I will give you rest. I am gentle, and lowly in heart. My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." And My help is careful.
I'm figuring out what it means to help well. To really be a burden-easer. To not just dive into the pool with my wisdom-whistle and understanding-inner-tube. I'm learning that impractical, irrational, crying, dirty people don't just do beautiful things for the Lord, but they are beautiful things to Him. I'd smack your face and say very rude things to you if you thought Joel was anything but cherished, wonderful and beautiful. Even though he was sick and weak.
I'm learning I needed a smack, because the heart-sick, and spiritually-crushed, and emotionally-weak are cherished, wonderful and beautiful. They didn't needed Jesus to sit them down with a sermon and practical take-home point. He knew that. They needed Him. And that's exactly what He gave. The Lord gives and.
And there is a little scrunch-face with Him right now. Thank you for helping me. You're changing the way I help other people - I can't thank you enough. I can't wait to hang your face on your nephew's wall.