November 1, 2010

Tip of the day—Accept

I’m a caregiver.  I have been one since I was a teenager, and my family might argue that I was one even before then.  I was the gal in our school who would make birthday cakes when someone had a celebration.  I have been a candy striper and have worked and volunteered in healthcare since I was in high school.  I love to help others.  I knew at an early age that it was my mission in life, and I truly feel like I’m doing God’s work when I’m helping others.

Accepting help, well that’s another story.  I might want the help but I’ll do just about anything to keep from asking for it.  It is such a character flaw, and I’m afraid it is one that many women share. 

We can do it all.  We’re superwomen.  We can juggle a million balls in the air and still keep everything going.  The truth is that idea is a fallacy.  No one can do it all, especially on her own.  We need others to help, support, encourage, build up, and partner with us.  If we try to do it all on our own, we not only risk running ourselves into the ground but we keep others from having the joy of helping us.  Research proves that altruistic actions build immunity, boost confidence, combat depression, and counter negative self talk.  We benefit from helping others, so why wouldn’t we want the people we love to have that same opportunity? 

Accepting help graciously is an art, and it is one that I haven’t quite figured out yet.  I’m good at saying thank you.  I feel the bond of friendship as someone offers something of themselves to help me.  Yet, when they ask, “How can I be of help?” I just can’t always bring myself to ask for what I need.  I’m working on it, though.

As I’ve said before on this blog, I think that God puts situations in our lives from which we are meant to learn something.  One of the questions I try to ask myself when faced with something that seems a lot bigger than I am is “What can I learn from this?  How can I benefit from this experience?”  I believe that if we don’t learn the lesson we are meant to learn that the same kind of situation will roll around again as if to give us another chance.  Accepting help is one of those for me. 

So, what have I learned thus far?

  • If offering help to others, be specific.  Instead of “How can I help?” Say, “I’d like to bring a meal by sometime this week.  Which night would be best for you?”  “I’m free on Wednesday night and would love to take the girls so that you can rest.”
  • When offering, return and offer again.  While I’m not suggesting that you badger someone that you are trying to help, I do know that sometimes a person doesn’t really know what they’ll need right off.  This is especially true right after the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one.  Right when it happens, you have a lot of help.  Then when the dust settles and you know what you’d ask for if someone were there, no one is around.  When I learn of a loss, I will usually try and mark my calendar one month after that time to remind myself to call and check on the person.
  • Similar to the previous suggestion, anticipate needs.  When you’ve had a baby, you know what a new mother is facing.  While beautiful and magical, it is also a trying time.  You’re learning to breastfeed, you’re sleep deprived, you’re faced with a million decisions and worried about making the “right” ones.  This is one of the reasons that meals are some of my favorite things to bring to new mothers.  Again, not right when the baby is born and everyone is there to help—bring the meal after the baby is born or a week or so before the birth when you know the mother is tired and not wanting to cook.  Anticipating needs of loved ones means to use empathy.  The best way to illustrate empathy is to imagine looking over a person’s shoulder and seeing the situation through his/her eyes.  Things that you like or want might not apply to someone else and having empathy will allow you to better recognize that and see what that person might need most.
  • When accepting, accept.  If you only eat organic and someone buys you a pizza or a bucket of chicken, so what?  You didn’t have to make the meal.  They did it out of love, and chances are, it will taste delicious.  Don’t try to micromanage the people who are there giving love and help to you.  I’m not suggesting that having boundaries is not appropriate, though.  If there are things you’d rather do yourself, say so, but do it in a kind way.  “I am so glad that you came to help me clean out my grandmother’s home.  I really want to look through and sort through these things. Please make sure you leave them, but these are some things over here you can help me with.”
  • Write an honest-to-Goodness thank you note.  Before our daughter was born, I would write letters each week.  Correspondence to loved ones, mailings of photographs, get well soon cards, and thank you notes.  I don’t care how technologically advanced we become, people still appreciate a real letter.  I’ve fallen out of the habit of letter writing, but out of all of the types of letters, I still try to get out thank you notes.  When someone offers help to you, thank them sincerely. 
  • Recognize your own self talk when accepting help from others.  What is keeping you from asking for help?  What is the thought process behind feelings of anxiety about accepting help?  If your best friend were talking with you about accepting help from others, what would she tell you?  For me, the self talk is almost always about concern that I’m putting someone else out or being a burden to someone.  Yet, when I help others I don’t feel that way.  I try to counter the negative self talk with the more rational thought—“You feel good helping, let her help you.”

As I enter the month of November, I already know that there will be a few situations in which I will need and want the help of friends and family.  I hope that I will enter those situations with an open heart, ready to accept and to feel the love of those close to me.  I know God works through tough and trying times to grow our hearts and minds, and I look forward to what I will learn through His love. 

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