Well, if you’ve noticed me walking with a slight limp, here’s the story: I was carrying in my groceries when my shoe got caught on the top of baby gate (doggie boundary dividing my living room from the kitchen). My arms were too full to even soften the fall, so one second I was quickly trying to unload the hot car, and the next second I was sprawled flat on the kitchen floor surrounded by lunch meat, five different kinds of cheese, peaches, and a pear tree.

Julie Ann felt bad for me in my pitiful state and came over to lick my face while I surveyed the damage to my knees and tried to untangle my feet from the gate.

It was a humbling moment in time.

And…It was funny the effect that simple spill had on my emotions. I was tempted to let my spirits crash right along with me. I could almost see all of my troubles lying in the heap of meat, cheese, and peaches.

And frankly, I have it pretty good.

I thought of the girl I had seen earlier that day parked in an empty corner of a parking lot crying her eyes out. I thought of another friend I had dinner with who is in serious physical and financial trouble. Another friend whose kids are struggling. Another who may lose her house. One who recently lost his job. One whose husband is dying. The list goes on.

I care. I even hurt for the girl in the parking lot whom I don’t know. Maybe she was crying because she broke a nail or woke up with a zit. But, hey, I know what it’s like to be ambushed by a baby gate and find yourself suddenly flat on your face  surrounded by all your troubles and being licked by a dog. It isn’t always the circumstance itself that hurts. The circumstance just reminds you once again that life hurts.

I know a lot of hurting people. Hurting deeply. And I feel powerless to help. I’d fix it for them if I could, but I can’t. I can’t bail everyone out of their financial problems. I can’t make people get along. I can’t heal their bodies.

I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it for myself and I certainly can’t fix it for others. I often even feel like my attempts at words of encouragement are kind of like an iceberg lettuce salad. Just filling space.

It sounds trite to try to give someone a recipe for happiness–even if I had one. If they choose, they can accurately point out that I have never been in their shoes. I don’t understand. Not really.

God provided for hurting people the best friend we could ever ask for. He listens. He cares. But unlike us, He never says, “If I could fix it for you, I would.”

Instead, He often says, “I could fix it for you, but I won’t.”

Even that hurts.

But it’s the truth.

And, in hindsight, I’m grateful to the people who spoke the truth to me when they knew I was hurting. They listened. They sometimes even cried with me. But they spoke the truth.

And the truth was this: humility, gratefulness, and joy are three of a kind. They like to hang together. When I am proud or self-centered, I won’t have joy. I won’t be happy. End of story.

I need humility. I need gratefulness. I need to see beyond myself and focus on what really matters. It won’t fix the circumstances but it will go a long way toward lifting my spirits and changing my outlook. It can turn me into an energy giver instead of a leech.

I make no effort to compare my troubles with the grave challenges some of my friends face. As I said, I have it pretty good. But as I learn to bear the burdens of my friends, I need to learn to listen, to love, but to speak the truth.

Sometimes, when I splat, it is time to stop and be humbled. Sometimes it is time to reflect and be grateful. Sometimes, it is time to move the baby gate (it is probably a bad idea to try to carry arm loads of loose groceries over an obstacle in flip flops).

And sometimes, when I’m hurting deeply, you might need to be the one to encourage me to do one or more of those things.

And no matter what I tell you or what excuses I give, be a true friend and tell me the truth.

Everything else is just iceberg lettuce.

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