I've always known that, but never really recognized it until this year. I've never articulated it. I didn't know how. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
Now to be sure, I have always been the first in line to help someone else. Few things make me giddy like helping other people, particularly other moms, children and the poor or needy. When it came to me, however, I just could not, would not accept help.
The only exception to this was my mother. When I was overwhelmed with kids, work and home, she would come to clean the house, cook for us or let me drop the kids off so I could have some time. Like me, she's a helper, and she is generous and giving of her time, always. She was my mom, so in my book, it was her job to help me. In my mind, she had clearance. Beyond that, though, I never let anyone in; I declined all offers, always.
Let me give you an example of how extreme this was. In March 2007, I was driving down the highway near my hometown in rural Nebraska to an event that I planned to cover for the newspaper where I worked. I had just dropped my son off with my mom and was busy organizing events of the day in my head, not to mention recounting an argument I'd had the night before. Being eight months pregnant, I was pretty emotional and irrational. You get it, I'm sure.
There was freezing rain and snow coming down and the roads were slick, but okay. After all, living in Nebraska, inclement weather and difficult road conditions were routine. For the most part, they just weren't that scary, they were just part of the scenery. Although I was cognizant of the weather and roads, my mind was just - elsewhere - and I remember being in sort of a haze. We all do this, don't we?
I had driven the road hundreds of times. It was one of those paths that seemed like I could follow with my eyes closed, so I wasn't at all aware that the river bridge I was crossing not only was icy, but slushy, until I was halfway through it. I snapped out of my haze just in time to realize that there was deep slush and I needed to slow down, but it was too late. I started swerving violently all over the road and I could feel my vehicle begin to flip.
I remember crying the word 'no,' out loud. I remember thinking, "This is it." That recurring nightmare I had that I drove that silver Warner Brothers edition Venture Van with the automatic doors into a body of water and drowned was about to come true. To describe that moment as horrifying doesn't do it justice, and it seemed to pass so slowly.
When my van flipped, I remember thinking about how stange it felt while it was turning upside down, like something was causing it to move in slow motion rather than real time. When I landed, it was just past the bridge. I had crashed in to a barbed wire fence just inches from a large piece of farm machinery. There was mud everywhere and the freezing rain and snow were coming down on my face.
I was upside down and my legs were pinned under my steering wheel and dash and I remember letting out one horrific, piercing scream. And then there was silence - thick, heavy, stunned silence. I felt very alone and very small in a very big world.
I remember a flash of broken glass, and I remember a flash of mud and grass. I remember my wet face. I remember my eyes being closed so tight that it hurt and reaching up with muddy, shaking hands, feeling for my On Star button to call for help. I vaguely remember talking with the operator, but I remember that I repeated over and over that I was pregnant.
As the operator was talking to me, my eyes were still shut. A man, I assume a motorist who came upon the scene, approached me and asked me if I needed help. I didn't even look at him. I still can't believe I never even looked at this man who saw a need and came to my rescue.
There was such urgency when he asked me if I needed him to call for help. I told him On-Star was calling for me, but thank you. I told him I was pregnant and I remember the authentic, unmistakable, fearful shake in his voice when he said he could see that. I opened my eyes long enough to see that fluids were leaking from my hood on to my smashed and muddy windshield, and I remember desparately asking him if he could see it. He said, "Don't worry; it's not gas." In my head, all I could see was my vehicle bursting in to flames.
I couldn't move my legs. There was no getting out, and I knew it. All I could do was wait for the emergency crew - upside down, a claustrophobic pinned in a confined space - too terrified to open my eyes.
Then this man - this kind, brave man who cared enough about a stranger who was obviously in crisis to rush on to the scene of this accident, potentially at risk to himself - asked me if I needed his coat. I wasn't wearing one. I said no. "I'm good, thanks."
I don't remember being cold, but as I relived this scene in my nightmares for months to come, my body relived it too, and I was cold. I would wake up shivering, and not just shivering, but shuddering, hard. My fists and jaw would be clenched and my body and face would be in so much pain from the shuddering. My husband would have to pile blankets on me to get my body to calm down and feel warm again.
Back in that moment, though, talking to this man with my eyes shut, I didn't even know that I was cold. He could see I was cold, but I had no idea. Because I was so determined never to let someone help me, even in my weakest of moments, I told this scared, brave, kind and generous man who was ready to give me the coat off his back in a winter storm, "No thanks. I'm good."
I deprived him of a blessing. I deprived him of an opportunity to do something, the only thing he could do for a very pregnant woman who was pinned upside down in a van after crashing violently on hazardous roads. Talk about selfish. Talk about pride. Talk about foolish.
Now in my mind, it was okay for the paramedics to come. It was okay for them to help me, because that was their job. They were trained for and existed to help me. Like my mom, they were just doing their job. But this man - this man who I couldn't even love enough as a fellow human being to look in the eyes and thank him for stopping because I was so absorbed in myself and my pride - in my mind it wasn't his job to help me, and I didn't need him.
I'm certain you must be wondering, so I'll tell you yes, the accident caused me to go in to labor and miraculously my precious baby boy was delivered by C-section healthy and fine, with few minor issues at five weeks early. My injuries were quite minor, and it wasn't until later that we discovered I had fractured my back. Because I was pregnant, we didn't take X-rays and when my back hurt, I assumed it was because I had gone in to labor. When it kept hurting, I assumed it was to be expected.
This was nearly four years ago, but that man has never left my mind. I keep coming back to him wondering who he was. What was his name? What did he look like? Did I know him? Chances are, I may have. How can I ever get the opportunity to thank him?
I had sent a thank you note to the ambulance crew, comprised almost entirely of people I knew, some of whom I went to high school with, one of whom I even had gone on a date with. I thanked those people, but it still kills me that I never thanked this man, that I will never know who he was.
He will never know that he brought me such comfort in that moment or that his presence on this earth in that moment made a real world of difference to me as he helped alleviate a fear that was quickly turning to panic and kept me from completely losing it and succumbing to my feelings of pure terror for myself and my baby. I robbed him of that blessing.
He will never know how much I appreciate the courage it took him to approach an accident scene like that. Since that time I, too, have been the first on the scene to a motor vehicle accident, and I know the sheer terror of not knowing what you are about to see. I know the panic and helplessness of seeing another human being in crisis, in deep need.
This summer, for the first time, I started to see that my refusal to lean on other people was not humility. It was not strength. It was selfishness and pride and truly, a weakness.
I moved away from my mom to live in Eastern Montana less than a year after my accident. Here I was with four kids and a husband with a demanding work schedule and I felt like I just had no one to call, no one to lean on. To be sure, I had people to call. God had placed many loving, giving, generous people in my path. I just refused to call.
So when I began working through a Bible study that helped me to identify my behaviors for the first time, my knee-jerk reaction was denial. Who me? Selfish? No! I give to everyone. I put everyone first. Who me? Prideful? No. You're thinking of someone else. I'm humble. Who me? Foolish? I'm intelligent! I had a full-ride college scholarship. No. That's not me, either.
Then our loving, truthful God opened my eyes in a way that only He could. Ecclesiastes 4:5-12 brought clarity to me in this area for the first time ever.
"The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. 'For whom am I toiling,' he asked, 'and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?' This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
We need each other. God made us to need each other and Him. He made us to not only help others, but to lean on others, and when I learned this, I made a commitment to put an end to all this selfishness, pride and foolishness.
I remember the first time my dear sweet friend called, knowing I was in a stressful season, and asked if she could take my young boys to play at the park so I could have some 'me' time.
Everything in me wanted to say, "No thanks. I'm good." But out of discipline and obedience to the Lord, I forced myself to say, "Thank you so much. That would be great." No doubt, it was great. I went on a much-needed hike at a nearby state park where I love to go and just be alone with our Creator.
That friend had no idea of this at the time, but that event was the beginning of me tearing down a seemingly impenetrable wall that I had built around myself under the guise of humility and strength. Little did I know, I was about to have many, many opportunities to practice this new skill of accepting help. God proceeded to walk me through some very difficult times in the months to follow and my ability to say 'yes' to help has grown exponentially.
The struggle is becoming less and less of one as time goes by. Yes, there are still times when I feel a little awkward letting someone watch my kids so I can go to a meeting, or sitting back and allowing someone to scoop my snow while my husband is out of town and I'm swamped with household responsibilities. I'm getting more comfortable with letting someone bring over a meal when I'm sick. With God's grace and empowerment I am able to allow people to bless me.