The Gift of Showing Up
by Jennifer Watson
Knowing how to help someone who is going through a difficult season is a mystery sometimes. Yet instead of doing nothing, we can start with showing up. Years ago, I called my friend in a panic after we received word from our birth mother that she wanted her son back. I had what seemed like minutes to grab all his belongings and say goodbye. I was frantic and couldn’t think straight. Normally I would have tried to wade through these waters of heartbreak on my own, but this was too much for me to handle. I needed my friend to come to my house and stay with my girls and make the day somewhat normal for them. Immediately after I hung up the phone, my friend dropped everything to show up for me in a tangible way.
My friend and I walked into the room where my son slept and wept. She held that sweet boy, who had no clue what was going on, close and we cried together. It was the ugly, wrecked kind of crying that only comes from a broken heart. Our hearts shattered in pieces; we held the little boy that held a big piece of my heart. Grappling to make peace with another hard goodbye, I said, “I don’t think I can take his bed apart.”
The next few hours were gut-wrenching; it was the same exchange only different this time. Last time his mother placed him in my arms and then drove off. But this time I had to place him back in her arms and drive away. Silence filled the car as my husband and I cried. I glanced back at the vehicle that took him away from us and then decided I had to look forward and be the glue for our grieving family.
When I returned home, my friend and daughters were making brownies. The girls looked like happy little girls should and my friend looked a mixture of strong and sad as she mothered all of us. Still reeling and in shock, I walked into the room where the little prince slept and noticed his bed was gone. Love took it down for me. My friend did the hard thing she knew we couldn’t do. For me, moving on meant removing the traces of him and getting our home looking like it did before he came. No more red, bouncy balls, only dolls and splashes of pink.
You can’t do that with your heart. You can’t remove all the traces where love used to live because now love and grief have to coexist together. You have to let the space of who you are be forever rearranged and mangled for a little while. At the moment, it felt like a wrecking ball and starting over. I cleaned up little traces of him, scattered Cheerios and missing pairs of shoes, knowing I would miss the mess he made and the little hands that made it. Sadness like waves rushed over me, but I knew I didn’t have to feel the weight of this heartache alone.
Love takes all your messy and somehow lets the landscape of your yesterday and your right now look like something you can build on. Love finds a screwdriver and takes down the empty baby crib. Love constantly reaches out and refuses to leave you in your fog of sadness. Love takes all of you, especially the messy parts, and gives you countless things to be thankful for. It’s about sitting with someone in her grief even when it’s uncomfortable. It’s about letting someone love you enough to see the wounds you would rather conceal. We break bread together and sometimes bake brownies; this is the gift of community. We create family without bloodlines with no strings attached. We love the way we have always wanted to be loved—completely. We bleed, cry, and keep pressing through difficult journeys because we know that there is more. We make our lives about people, not on building our personal kingdom.
In John 21:15-17, Jesus kept asking Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Jesus asked, even to the point of hurting his feelings. Do you love me? His threefold denial in the past needed a threefold answer to his calling and signing up for a life that would cost him something, even his death. Peter would answer with a pain in his heart, “Yes, you know that I love you.” Each time Peter said yes, Jesus answered back with tend to my sheep. Feed my sheep.
At that moment, I am certain that Peter felt the sting of wondering if his affirmation of love was enough. Jesus tells Peter that loving Him well means taking care of His children, the feeding of souls. He asks us to follow Him wherever that leads. It seems that loving Jesus isn’t enough unless we are willing to love and feed His sheep.
Jesus didn’t ask Peter to be perfect and have it all together, He simply asked him to love in such a way that it would require action. I think we complicate showing up for others and make it so much harder than it really is. It’s hard to know how to help when someone is hurting, but the first step will always be showing up. And the next step after? You have to figure it out as you go. A pan of brownies and screwdriver might seem small to you, but to me it was a healing salve and a reminder that I wasn’t alone.
Jennifer Watson is the author of Freedom! The Gutsy Pursuit of Breakthrough and the Life Beyond It, a wife, mother of two teenage daughters, and national speaker. Jennifer has been in full-time ministry for twenty years and is passionate about investing in others.
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