“We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.” – C.S. Lewis The Four Loves
Whenever I visit a new Catholic church, I always seek out my favorite image from the Stations of the Cross. It is station five when Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene.
I used to pride myself on being incredibly independent, but the challenge of raising our special needs son made me realize how badly we need others. At first it was our desperate need for doctors, therapists and aides, but when all of the professional roles were filled, we realized that the people we were missing were friends.
Because of our son’s level of disability, he didn’t participate in activities where you typically meet other parents, like baseball teams or dance troupes. It was especially hard to meet people when we were frequently home-bound. My husband and I were masters of divide and conquer parenting. We switched-off going to Mass with our older son, to stores, and school events. It was a long running joke that we weren’t allowed to be anywhere, together in public, like a space-time continuum thing. The bottom line was that we rarely did anything as a family.
So how does a family like ours find friends and the support that God clearly intends for us all?
The honest answer is that I prayed and asked for help. It was during this struggle that we found the greatest and simplest act of kindness we could imagine.
As with most little miracles it started when I asked for help. I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance while waiting to pick up our kids after school. I told her how I wished our church had more fellowship for women or some way we could involve our disabled son more with the parish. She said, “Why don’t you come to my house? We meet once a month for rosary and everyone brings food. Your whole family is welcome.”
My husband and I were thrilled and scared to death. Surely she didn’t mean our family.
It took us months to say “yes” but we’ll never forget that first visit. Our younger son headed straight for a corner of the living room with books and toys. Our older son plopped down on a couch with several friends he knew from school. The women were gathered around a farmhouse table in the kitchen telling stories and catching up. The men were outside around the family’s fire pit not caring that it was a cold day in November. It felt so beautifully welcoming and normal and we were overjoyed to all be in the same place.
That one simple invitation changed our lives.
Those acquaintances are now our extended family and, until COVID-19 hit, we were frequently in that house once a month to laugh, cry, pray and eat a lot of wonderful food. Even when our son had bad days and we had to leave early, it was never a problem. We were always welcomed by our friends exactly as we were.
Of all the help our family needed over the years, it was a simple invitation to belong that changed our lives the most. God filled our need for a friend or two with a tribe that lifted us up made us feel like family. I don’t think we could have made it through the last five years without them.
Now I pray that God will keep my eyes open for the moment someone quietly asks me for help and my family has the chance to make new friends. When that day comes, I expect that I might be at Mass, sitting in my usual spot by the 5th Station.