I recently interviewed two women living with Multiple Sclerosis for a guest feature on my blog. When I asked them to speak about the life they envisioned as young women compared to the reality of their lives today, they both agreed that though they never dreamed they’d have MS and surely don’t want MS, the diagnosis has allowed them to connect with and help others who are facing the same illness, or working through other life struggles.
I think about this often – the way our circumstances create opportunities to help others who are suffering.
In my days of volunteering as a client advocate at a pregnancy resource center, a young woman came to an appointment in distress because her baby (still in utero) had been diagnosed with renal hydronephrosis. This malformation causes dilation in the kidney pelvis and can mean surgical correction shortly after birth.
My client and I had a long conversation that day about the what-ifs. It’s hard for a momma to be faced with the possibility of her newborn baby being whisked off to surgery in his or her first days in the world. We talked a lot about fear that day. About vulnerability.
I told her I understood how she was feeling, and I really meant it. My own son had been diagnosed with renal hydronephrosis less than two years prior to the conversation. I remembered the diagnosis, the scans, the machines. I remembered the fear.
As I identified with her in that counseling room, I watched her soften and lighten. There’s power in empathy – power that makes scary situations less scary and overwhelming circumstances seem somehow more manageable.
Someone else has walked this path before me.
But even when we don’t exactly know – even when we are on the outside looking in, we still gain perspective by sharing in another human being’s suffering.
I think of my friend who gave birth to premature twins while I was newly pregnant with my first son. Their family endured unimaginable physical and emotional challenges from day one. Three years later, one of their sweet young boys lost his life.
I remember this family often as I watch my own sons grow and thrive. I vividly recall standing in a prayer circle at church after learning my friend was in premature labor, then following their family updates on Caring Bridge in the months and years to come.
Every time – every time I think of their family story or whisper a prayer for them, I feel vulnerable. Raw. What some parents and families must endure just breaks me. It steals my breath and sends me to my knees, and when I stand again I am softer and far more thankful for anything that is right and good in this world.
I don’t want anyone I love to suffer, but if they must, I also don’t want it to be in vain. I want them to be aware that just knowing their family has focused my vision and steadied my feet. Just knowing them has made me a more patient mother and compassionate friend. Knowing them has made me stronger.
When I followed my thirty-year-old friend’s fight against cancer or shared in a friend’s infertility struggles, I grew stronger.
When I cried with my friend about her infant son’s SMA diagnosis or learned from two women living life with MS, I grew stronger.
Broken, then stronger.
Friends, I don’t know what you’re facing today, or what any of us will face tomorrow, but this I know: if we pay attention to one another, if we care for other human beings as they face trials of all kinds, if we involve ourselves in thinking of, praying for, or coming alongside of friends in their times of need, we grow stronger too.
If we allow ourselves to be broken by someone else’s burden, not only do we help shoulder the weight, but we gain perspective and grace for the many trials we’re sure to face ourselves over the course of a lifetime.
Please remind me, my friends, on the day I stand broken, that you share my burden — you shoulder it with me. And it’s making you stronger, too.
*Featured image via Canva
*Umbrella image by Stacy Harrison