“You’ll never manage on your own. Is there someone who can help you after surgery?”
I live alone. These words from a spine surgery veteran stripped away my protective layers of independence and lay bare my deepest fear: What will I do if I’m unable to take care of myself? I’d dealt with other health issues in the past, but this would be the first time I’d be incapacitated with major mobility restrictions. Now six weeks before surgery, fear stood on the brink of reality.
My to-do list of pre-surgery preparations seemed endless. I dutifully checked off each item. Move pantry items, dishes, clothes, and towels to eye-level shelves. Check. Purchase reacher and special pillows. Check. Shower chair. Check. But each time I looked at the list, the unchecked “help after surgery” need glared back at me.
Prayer filled my restless nights. “Lord, this operation didn’t catch You unaware. You already have a plan for my care in place. Help me trust in Your provision.”
In those early morning hours when sleep eluded me, I realized it wasn’t just my independent nature that made me hesitate to ask for help. After surgery I would be weak, in pain, and vulnerable. How could I let people see me at my worst? Yes, pride had reared its ugly head.
One morning while I was reading in Ecclesiastes, verses I’d read dozens of times took on new meaning:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10, NIV).
This pointed reminder that God never intended us to go it alone in this life chiseled through my walls of independence and pride. God promises us His presence. Yet He also places us in a community where we can support one another.
As I absorbed the meaning of these verses in Ecclesiastes, I realized the Lord had already prepared the way for my next step. My church was known for loving and serving members of our church family. It was past time to shed my independence and pride. I arranged to have coffee with Debbie, our Women’s Ministries director.
Debbie’s approachable manner put me at ease as we sat across the table in the coffee shop. Yet my hesitation to ask for help ran deep. I wrapped my hands around the Styrofoam cup of coffee for comfort and courage, as much as for warmth.
In a halting voice, I conveyed my need for assistance after surgery. “How may we help?” Debbie answered and then encouraged me to provide specifics. As we discussed details, she took careful notes. I provided her the names of a few women who might be willing to help. “Let me see what I can do,” she promised.
A few days later, a series of emails popped up in my inbox. I was overwhelmed. Women responded to Debbie’s request, committing to blocks of time to care for me. I lost track of the number of names, leaving the details to God and Debbie.
The day after surgery, I arrived home exhausted and in a pain medication-induced blur. Yet clear to me was that from the moment I stepped across the threshold of my house, I was enveloped in the gentle, loving care of seventeen women who would minister to me on a rotating schedule, 24/7, for the next week.
Each friend served me in a unique way, used by God to meet my needs. Shari, a nurse, changed my bandages and assisted me with my first scary shower. Kristen, who works in an assisted living facility, was the perfect person to help me through the long painful, sleepless nights. Other friends filled the role of cheerleaders, encouraging me to walk the doctor-ordered laps around my living room. At the end of the week when I was more alert, Terry and Judy, a couple from my small group, brought movies. Our evening of viewing provided a healing balm of normalcy.
By the next week, for the most part, I could manage on my own. Yet friends continued to text, call, and provide meals and groceries. Someone stopped by at least once a day to check on me. One friend, Margie, gave me the gift of cleaning my house weekly for two months.
A few weeks after surgery as I was clearing off the dining room table, I came across a written log my friends kept during the week they cared for me. Intended for the women who followed them on the schedule, the log included detailed notes about medication dosages, pain levels, food intake, and the number of times I’d been up and walking. My eyes welled with tears at this poignant reminder of the depth of their loving care.
I saved a list in my Bible of the seventeen ladies who served me to remind me that I need the fellowship of other believers. It’s not God’s plan for me to live in isolation. God has placed me in a loving church community who, as others outside our church say when they hear my story, “knows how to do church.”
When situations arise and my trust in the Lord falters, this list also reminds me that God is with me. I’m never alone. He meets my every need in any and every situation. And sometimes His greatest provision is in the form of friends.