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This Month’s Question:

Life is hard, and we often need help. How can I accept help from others without feeling the need to repay them?


Emily: Forty-two hours is how long my niece and her husband were able to hold their beloved stillborn daughter before she was laid to rest. Adrielle Kate—her name meaning belonging to God and pure—brought heaven closer to her young parents. Farewell, dear baby—may we meet again someday.

Grief is hard. Family, friends, church, and the community weep with this couple and look for ways to help bear their burden… which ultimately does lighten the load and can help along with healing. But …being the recipient of all this kindness can be difficult in itself. After losing three babies to a genetic disorder, we have often found ourselves in this position, and to be honest, it wasn’t always easy. We wished we were the ones bearing the casseroles, sending the flowers, and reaching out in love. We wished it was our time to share instead of other people taking that time for us. Yet, I can’t put into words how much these things meant to us and how greatly we did appreciate every little gesture.

So how should we respond when we are in need of help and are not able to reciprocate? My mom gave me wise words years ago and they have always stayed with me. I was probably lamenting the fact that we were once again on the receiving end and how I felt bad about taking up people’s time. We had not asked for this, we don’t want to feel indebted, and so on. In plain language Mom explained: We are asked to help bear one another’s burdens, and by not graciously accepting that, we rob the giver of the joy and can lose the blessing for ourselves. Gratitude—the state of being grateful and thankful. So, by not showing gratitude, we are not doing our part in the big scheme of things. That little talk was a tremendous help to me and encouraged me to always try to express my gratefulness. Another thing might be that we have this fear of coming across as sponges, someone who sighs and thinks that people really should be doing things for us. After all, we’ve got such a rough lot in life. Maybe that’s pride, but you really, really don’t want people to think that of you.

The point is not doing things for the honor and glory, but most women probably have had the experience of putting a lot of thought into something and getting a tepid response, which simply rains on your parade. I had a friend whose relative had a new baby, so she put in a lot of time and effort crafting a beautiful blanket to present to them. “Oh, another blanket. He’s gotten so many already,” was the thanks that she got. How horribly awkward! She took the blanket back home again, but talk about a letdown! Or at the gathering where the mother comments how her family groaned when meals were being brought in, fearing that it would be dressing-noodle casserole again. I can assure you that every woman there quickly wracked their brain, trying to remember what meal they had taken in. Maybe it’s our insecurities, but we women want our food—or whatever it may be—to be appreciated. So, by not recognizing what had been done for them and thinking of the giver, these women, in my opinion, missed out on a whole lot. The giver still received a blessing, but the experience could have been a lot more meaningful.

Quilt sketch

It is a humbling experience to get an outpouring  of support knowing that you can never repay nor thank each one individually. Last summer, we had a major windstorm go through our area wreaking destruction for lots of people. Our friend’s daughter was getting married on a Wednesday, and this happened Monday night. Their heifer barn was gone, the wedding tent collapsed, and there were fallen trees and branches everywhere. Our friend related how difficult it was to not have a sure answer when his daughter asked if the wedding could happen. Power lines were down, roads were impassable, and would people even be able to come? Then the people came. Neighbors, their son’s friends, and people they didn’t even know started coming from all directions, and by Tuesday evening things were cleaned up and ready for the wedding. This was community at its finest! The heartfelt thankfulness and appreciation of our friends was surely conveyed to everyone who was there. God’s plan was fulfilled: the people kindly gave, and our friends respectfully accepted.

Being grateful is something that should be taught to our children at a very young age, and by being an example, you set them on the right track. I’m not talking about falsely gushing or carrying on but just a sincere appreciation for their efforts. Writing thank-you notes is a great tool, although I could vastly improve in that area! Good intentions don’t make the cut.

The Psalmist says, “You may weep for a night but joy cometh in the morning.”1 We can help this joy come by humbling ourselves, recognizing our need for help, and being a true and gracious receiver.

1) Psalm 30:5


Daniel: By divine design, we’re dependent on each other—the giver, the receiver. Accepting help graciously may be among life’s top attributes. Nobody said it’s easy. But for the glory of God and for the good of the giver and yourself, the biblical directive is to embrace this kindness with a grateful heart.

There is a destiny that makes us brothers
None goes his way alone
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.

– Edwin Markham

Looking at the larger picture, aren’t we all in this together? In olden times, wise old Solomon wrote, To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.1 Along those lines, there’s a time to give and a time to receive. Easy to say, much harder to do.

Accepting help we can’t repay does leave a feeling of indebtedness, which motivates us to pass it on whenever and however we can. Two thousand years ago, a tax collector named Matthew sat in his booth of customs in the town of Capernaum. By dint of his profession, he was detested and reviled, the lowest form of traitor. When Jesus came by, He addressed him, “Follow me.” And Matthew arose and followed him.2 He opened his heart to the help Jesus offered. What he received was a new life, a changed heart, a second chance. Did Matthew feel indebted? As one of the 12 apostles, he helped spread the gospel of Jesus and died a martyr.

Life is hard in the sense of its uncertainties, its reversals of fortune and circumstances, its setbacks, heartaches, and misunderstandings. People carry heavy burdens. Families lose much-needed loved ones. Tragedies occur. Incurable sicknesses arise. And so often the crowning blow comes with a hospital bill that threatens to cripple the family in whose mailbox it arrives. Is it any wonder Apostle Paul wrote: Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.3

The awareness of need and the spirit of giving is notable in the community we live in. But it doesn’t stop there. Like the poem by James Foley goes:

Drop a pebble in the water,
just a splash and it is gone,
But there’s half a hundred ripples
circling on and on and on.

That’s how it is with giving and receiving—the circles keep going and going. They span church denominations and cultures; they break down walls. The Good Samaritan, despised in the Jewish world he lived in, showed mercy for the traveler who was beaten and left half-dead by thieves. He poured oil in his wounds and bound them up, set him on his own donkey, and brought him to an inn. The Samaritan himself paid the innkeeper for the wounded man’s bed and care and would stop back to pay for further expenses incurred in the recovery. By the way, the man who was beaten and robbed happened to be a Jew. The lesson in this is for all of us.

In the great scheme of things, though, life as we know it right here, right now, isn’t hard in the sense of material possessions. Taken in the context of people worldwide, we’re living on “Easy Street.” What generation of common people at any time in history has lived with more conveniences than we do today? Ancient Greece experienced a period known as The Golden Age. Today we live on the cusp of our own “golden age”—common comforts, job opportunities, leisure time, tools to get any job done, freedom to do this, freedom to do that. What did we do to deserve this? How is it that we were born in this community at this time? Considering the difficulties and deprivations our forefathers encountered, before and after immigration to America, living the good life is certainly not our right, nothing we’ve earned or paid for.

In our rural setting of farmsteads, now and then a barn goes up in flames, which means a barn raising is in the works. The outpouring of funds and donated labor humbles the farmer who loses his barn, then he stands by as a new one rises out of the ashes. He understands first-hand the sacrifices being made by scores of volunteers who want no pay or recognition. At such a time, watching the community rally around one of its own puts a new dimension to: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.4 When it’s all over and done, there’s something touching in seeing the farmer standing there in the shadow of his new barn, hands in his pockets, wholly at a loss for words.

Sometimes what is given by way of help escapes our notice until a long time later. In my impressionable early teen years, a new farm family moved into our neighborhood. My high regard for this farmer amounted to nothing less than adulation, for more reasons than one. He was known as Roman A.I. From this point on, I was kept busy emulating him. Since we belonged to the same threshing and silo-filling ring, working shoulder-to-shoulder with him through much of the summer made age 14 a banner year for me. Roman A.I. drove a team of beautifully matched dapple grays, Dick and Doc. His farm wagon, complete with side racks, was painted silver-gray, complementing that team of his. Two small leather loops on the front upright rack held his threshing fork, its handle worn smooth by many years of use. That upside-down, 3-tined fork jutting above the rack lent just the right touch of flourish to his whole outfit. Contented black and white cows occupied his stable stanchions in double rows. The exceptionally hilly farm he rented yielded bumper crops some years, other years not. All that, plus Roman A.I.’s practical know-how about soil, horsemanship, and life in general held me in thrall.

Sketch of Roman AI and Daniel leaning on a fence

It wasn’t just his dapple grays and silver-gray wagon that evoked my admiration. It was what he said and how he said it, what he did and how he did it. I must’ve asked the man a question every minute that summer. Though I was a raw teenager, Roman A.I. never talked down to me, sidestepped a query, or shortened an explanation. He treated me as his equal. The proverb, A word fitly spoken…5 conjures up images of his weathered face between a straw hat up top and a silvery beard below. I can hear him yet, that burry quality to his voice. “Well …” he’d say, dragging it out while he pondered his reply. Another thing—the suspenders his wife sewed on his denim britches didn’t crisscross in the back. Instead, they were held together by a short connector bar. It sounds a bit silly now to say this, but back then I decided if I ever got married, I’d want my wife to make my suspenders just the way Roman Fannie made his.

Years went by before I understood what it was that drew me to him. It was simply this: Roman A.I. gave freely of himself, true-blue, unadorned. Of course, I can’t repay him. All I can do is give glory to God who oversaw the bringing together of a wise farmer in barn-door britches and a raw teenager.

“Years went by before I understood what it was that drew me to him. It was simply this: Roman A.I. gave freely of himself, true-blue, unadorned.”

To wrap it up, the account of the ten lepers drives home a telling point. They called to Jesus for mercy from afar. In answer, Jesus sent the lepers to the priest, presumably to be pronounced clean. And it came to pass, that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell on his face at Jesus’ feet giving him thanks. Here Luke adds a thought-provoking side note… and he was a Samaritan. But Jesus addresses the thanklessness of the others. Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?6 The point—give glory to God.   //

1) Ecclesiastes 3:1      2) Matthew 9:9      3) Galatians 6:2
4) Matthew 7:12      5) Proverbs 25:11      6) Luke 17:11–17

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Emily Hershberger, with her husband and two children, have an organic dairy near Mt Hope, Ohio. She enjoys farming, gardening, garage sales, and a good book.

Daniel and Mae live on a 93-acre farm between Walnut Creek and Trail, Ohio. Five children, hay-making, and Black Angus cattle take up any spare time after work at Carlisle Printing.

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Ripples by Melissa K. Norris
Water Like a Blessing by Shawn & Beth Dougherty
Dirty Water by Wendy Cunningham
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