I distinctly recall the first time someone “blessed my heart”. You know the type: the staged whisper (southern accent optional), big smile and—this is key—behind your back. I was standing in the world’s longest post office line and I had stupidly forgotten to go to the bathroom before I decided to run this brilliant errand. I had all three of my boys with me (cue warning sirens) and I was holding a huge box for a friend that I was shipping internationally, complete with 4,124 forms filled out in triplicate.
There I was, shifting from one foot to another, and my boys just couldn’t. Pull. It. Together. They were squirrely and goofy and decided our local grumpy, fluorescent-flickering post office was the BEST place to play tag.
That’s when I heard it.
“Bless her heart.”
I fumed. I was frustrated with my kids. Frustrated at the lack of public restrooms in the post office. And frustrated that some woman who didn’t even know my story could “bless my heart” in such a way that felt about as far from a blessing as humanly possible.
What was not lost on me at that moment was that we were in the final preparations to receive foster children into our home. We were planning on taking in a sibling group of two, which meant we were mere moments away from jumping from 3 to 5 kids. I wanted to turn around to this woman and scream “Guess what!? There’s MORE coming! You think I can’t handle these lunatics? Just wait! I’m taking in 2 more! HA!”
A year later and that story still sticks with me. Especially since we now are a family with 5 children and I have had more than a few moments where I’m sure I’ve had my heart secretly blessed for any number of crazy reasons. But there have been so many other moments in the last year where people have truly—and I mean, truly—blessed our hearts while we’ve been on this difficult journey. When people have taken the time to know what will really help us, it is a heart blessing like no other.
If you have a friend who is struggling—whether they are walking a path that is difficult due to illness or uncertainty, living with pain or fear, adopting or fostering, or is trying to save a marriage or her family—wouldn’t you like to become someone who truly, truly, blesses her heart to make her journey a little easier? Make her load a little lighter? But more than that, you will make an imprint on her heart that will never be forgotten. I promise. Because I haven’t.
Here are 5 ways you can bless the heart of your struggling friend:
ASK HOW YOU CAN PRAY SPECIFICALLY.
Instead of “I’m praying for you” try “How can I pray for you?” This may sound simple but this is huge. You may be surprised by the requests (I’ve asked people to pray that I delight in a particular child, for help with difficult toilet training, handling a visit with the biological mom, and praying protection over one of my children as he struggled with our new family dynamic.) Then, follow up and tell them what you are specifically praying for them. Share a Bible verse you are claiming for them. Tell them they came to mind during your quiet time. In this small but mighty way, you can be holding up the arms of someone who is in the battle of her life.
OPEN YOUR EYES TO WHAT IS REALLY NEEDED.
When we were beyond busy with adjusting to our new family members and my husband had to have shoulder surgery, we had friends who hired students to rake our leaves because they knew we did not have a nanosecond (or the shoulder power) to do it. My friend’s daughter comes over occasionally to help me fold mountains of laundry. Some of our family volunteered to pay for a cleaning person to help with the house. Look around and see what might ease her burden—could she use a meal, even after the dust has settled? Would her favorite Starbucks drink help her smile on a tough day? Could their family use the clothes or toys your kids have outgrown? Could she use an extra hand at bedtime when her husband is traveling? Stop and take a look at the day-to-day needs your friend might have—it may not be glamorous to help load the dishes, but it will definitely bless her.
DON’T ACCEPT “NO” FOR AN ANSWER (WITHIN REASON, OF COURSE).
“I’m bringing you dinner this week. Is tonight or tomorrow better for you?” Or “I have some baby gear that you might need and I’m swinging through your neighborhood. How about I drop them off?” Or “I want to take the kids off your hands for an afternoon—what day works best for you this week?” It is so much easier to accept a blessing when the person on the other end of the phone has decided it is going to happen—her part of the deal is figuring out the when.
DON’T FORGET THEM.
After a while, things start to settle and life looks like it’s getting back to normal. But life doesn’t feel “normal” anymore when you are dealing with sickness, a death in the family or fostering. It helps to remember that it’s hard for your friend to reach out when it’s not socially acceptable to be “struggling” anymore. So check in. Call. Send a quick text. Follow up after that appointment she’s been dreading or after a day you know has been particularly tough. It means more than you know.
RESPECT THEIR STORY.
It’s sometimes easy to put a nice, shiny gloss over a situation with our friends who are struggling because, if we’re honest, we don’t really want to think about what they’re going through. Sometimes it’s too hard. Too painful. Whether it is a dying parent, an affair, an addiction or some trauma with children, it can make us vulnerable to the uglier side of life. But for those of us walking through it, we know it can be messy and hard and difficult and hopeful all at once. So if you’re able to dive in and listen and meet them where they are, it helps to be able to talk about tough, ugly stuff with someone who is not afraid to hear it. I couldn’t talk about our foster care story for the first few months without bursting into tears. But man, did it help to have someone nod in understanding and listen to some tough stuff. I’ve had countless people meet me where I was—at whatever emotional stage it happened to be—and their courage and compassion meant so much to me.
All five of these ways—so simple yet so meaningful. I still find myself shaking my head in awe at the generosity of our friends and family when I look back over this last year. It’s been a very difficult journey, but we have never, ever done it alone.
“Bless your heart,” they say.
[This blog was published on Next Level Mama.]
Katie Kenny Phillips
Katie Kenny Phillips lives in Atlanta with her husband, Jeff, and their five hilarious kids (3 biological and 2 by way of foster care and adoption). Their home is made up of two parts Legos, one part dirt/sticks/rocks, and all parts “whose underwear is this and why is it in the middle of the family room?” She and her husband help lead their church’s orphan/foster care ministry and spend time encouraging and supporting families who are on foster and adoption journeys. Read more of Katie’s wisdom on her blog, Operation Leap of Faith.