I have not spent the night at camp with the kids this week. In the mornings I drove 45 minutes from Forney to Canton, and in the afternoon I drove back, trying not to touch the car with my filthy body and clothes after working all day. This means the activity and people of each day have been bookended by time alone.
Being here and doing this work has been helpful to me. Hard physical labor clears the mind and the heart. There is no space for those unpleasant mental circles I tend to run until the groove hurts. It is hot, there are kids all around, and life seems simple.
Doing this work makes me feel close to my daughter Lucy. I think about her during the drive. Her helplessness drew love towards her, as if needing to be helped made the people around her feel loved – positive about themselves. She treated all people as if they were the same, no matter what they said or did to her. I remember being surprised that she did not hate or fear the people who caused her pain in our continual visits to the hospital – all the more because I suspected she did recognize and remember the actual doctors, technicians, and therapists we saw over and over. Because she couldn’t ever speak I couldn’t ask her directly, but I saw her smile or wave or blow kisses to anyone who came in her room.
Did she erase the pain they had caused from her mind? Was she able to just let go of hurts immediately after they occurred? How do you do that?
It makes me feel great to help people who have obvious needs, like Lucy. But there is an element of embarrassment, too: many times when I have asked for help I have felt awkward about asking, and I don’t want to make anyone self-conscious about having needs. I think it makes me shy and formal – I am trying so hard not to be hearty or smug about being the one giving help that I can make the person receiving help feel awkward!
Which is to say that being here and doing this work makes me feel close to Lucy, but without the ease that came from being her mother. It was easy to ask, and easy to take, while she was alive. I didn’t care what it was: money, time, work, even intimate things like letting other people clean your house and keep your kids for hours at a time. I took it all from anyone who offered like it was my birthright. With her disabilities, I felt like she deserved all the help we could get. The generosity of others, and my comfortableness taking what they wanted to give, made me feel loved and accepted.
And it is a LOT HARDER now to let my interactions with other people flow in and out like that. Am I worthy of receiving help? Do I still need help? Are my own needs as valid as Lucy’s, who lived in a constant state of need?
So participating in a mission effort feels clear and clean like my life used to be. Here’s what needs to be done, here’s what you can do to help. Gloves over there, roofing shingles next to them, get to it, partner! All the black and white of a good old John Wayne western.
And I find myself unspeakably grateful to these people who just let go and ask for help. The ones who find out about Canton Project Rehab and don’t let pride, or humility, or wisdom, or insanity, or love or money hold them back from saying: “I have a need.”Who let us into their lives and accept our imperfect efforts to improve their situation. Doing this gives ME permission to need help, too.
My help is not perfect and it’s not really all that good. If anybody was able to choose between my home improvement help and true professional work they’d be crazy to take what I’m able to do. (Thank God actual professionals volunteer to lead the jobs!)
So the person allowing Canton Project Rehab into their home (the one like Lucy, like me, who needs help) is practicing a kind of Christ-likeness. They take me as I am, and do not hold against me the uneven roof shingles, spotty paintbrush dabs, wildly spaced screws dotting the length of their outside deck. They are showing me that Jesus takes us where we are with what we have and does not reproach us for what is given in love.
There is no help for my need for the presence of my daughter and the absence in my life without her here. I am not grateful she is gone. I have no recourse for the difference in the life I WANT and the life I HAVE.
But I can help another person and do that as if for her. I can participate in something that bypasses my own awkward introversion and makes my ineptitude at small talk immaterial. And Jesus stands between us transforming what is given and what is taken. Lord, I need you. – Katie