When I was pregnant with my third child, my doctor put me on bed rest for eleven weeks because I went into preterm labor. I was overwhelmed—to say the least. I was allowed once daily trips down and up the stairs, and a shower every other day.
Everything I did happened in bed—except sleep! Because who can sleep after lying around all day? Oh, and the medicine they give you to prevent labor is actually a stimulant, which doesn’t help. (C’mon people, this is modern America, can’t we do better?)
Overwhelmed became my middle name
That time was scary and frustrating, and I needed LOTS of help taking care of my then four and two-year-old babies, and my poor overwhelmed hubby, who could barely keep his head above water, despite the help we received.
What I learned during those weeks, and subsequently, as I endured four back surgeries in six years, is that when a person is facing overwhelm like never before, there is one thing they crave: normalcy.
During the last few weeks before my due date, my doctor released me to go on one outing a day. So one Wednesday, I chose to go to swimming lessons with my kids.
Previous to my forced bed rest, I dreaded those hectic afternoons—hurried, sweating bullets in the tropical temps of the indoor pool, trying to get unruly toddlers to comply. Sadly when I was fully healthy and able, I often wished those afternoons away.
But when I couldn’t do my regular chaotic life, oh, how I wished for normal.
My mother-in-law (a godsend) stepped in for swim lesson day. She wrangled my littles into car seats, wrestled them into swimsuits, drenched herself during the post-swimming shower routine, and somehow managed to get their sticky, wet limbs stuck back into dry clothes.
For any woman who does this on a regular basis, you know this is a heroic feat!
And all this was done for one purpose: so that I could have a dose of normalcy in the midst of my overwhelmed life. So I could watch my tiny people do their big kid kicks, get splashed, and sit in a wobbly, uncomfortable, plastic chair at the side of the pool.
But really, so I could have small dash of normal in the midst of my overwhelmed life.
A few hours of normalcy is one of the biggest blessings I received in those bed rest and back surgery days. If you want to be a friend who loves well in times of hardship, consider giving the gift of normal.
How to help a friend who’s overwhelmed
Here’s a few ways to help create normalcy:
• Take them to Target or the mall (even if they need the wheelchair)
• Go to the movies (recliner seat theaters are perfect for infirm friends)
• Go out to coffee
• Offer to accompany them to their kids’ events (you do all the “heavy lifting” if needed)
• Help with their household tasks like laundry, dishes, cleaning so they can focus their energy on time with family.
One Small Win: Call a friend who’s experiencing a hard time (illness, stress, loss of a loved one, cancer, infertility, divorce, etc.) and offer to do one of these “normal” things with her!
For more practical ways to support those you care about in the rough patches of life, you can pick up a copy of Sarah Beckman’s, Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial, which releases February 14, 2017.
Sarah Beckman is an author and speaker, living in Albuquerque, NM, with her husband, Craig, of 24 years. They have three delightful children ages 15, 17, and 20. Her experience on both sides of the “bed”—both being helped and helping others—provide her authentic viewpoint for her book, Alongside. When she’s not writing or speaking, you might find her in the kitchen creating something to share with a “neighbor” in need.
Her passion for loving her neighbor has fueled her life and ministry for over 10 years, giving her the opportunity to address audiences across the country. She has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also works as a communications coach and corporate trainer.
When you and your husband were dating what did he do when you guys were not together? What did he want you to do with him? And how long has it been since you have done that activity with your husband? This week initiate an activity that your husband used to love. Whether it’s his favorite hobby, sport, or pastime, it’s time for you to get involved – be his buddy today. It is a great time to get outside, days are longer and the weather is warmer. Do you need to reserves a court, schedule a tee time or offer to go to the gym with him?
Most guys don’t spend a lot of time hanging out with their buddies—you are his buddy. He married you to have a built-in friend who he can do all those fun things. (The fact that the two of you can have sex is definitely a bonus…)
It’s vital for men to build friendship into each other’s lives, and as wives, we have a responsibility to encourage our guys to hang out with other good guys. However, in most marriages, our husbands will be looking to us to do life with.
My husband loves to go to the woods, build a fire and have a cookout. I’m more of a white tablecloth kind of girl. But, you know while we were dating I was the happiest “camper” around. I prepared the food for our open flame. I bought cute hiking boots. I joined him on seemingly endless hikes surrounded by mosquitoes and poison oak. While we were dating, I would have hunted wild moose just to be with him.
Once we were married, many of my husband’s favorite activities were put on the back burner… I would love to be able to say that I encouraged him to have his “guy time,” but there was a house to clean, kids to raise, and jobs to get to. Watching all six Star Wars movies and trekking into the mountains would have to wait until our kids were grown (and possibly into early retirement…).
It’s time to think about those things your husband loves to do with you—his buddy. Maybe it’s hiking up a mountain, hanging out at Best Buy, or watching his alma mater’s football team play at the local high school. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not—your fun will come from watching the look on your husband’s face as he reclaims some of his long forgotten loves. (Video gaming anyone?)
Accountability: Peer Pressure for Grown Ups
Getting a Couple of People to Hold You Accountable
Today: Find a couple of women to hold you accountable for your goal. I could be the women you are already working this book with, or it could be women who have the same goals as you do.
The Goal Girls started six years ago when every area of my life was in transition. My marriage was falling apart and I found myself back in the job market to support myself and my kids. On top of all that, I needed to find a new place to live. I felt like everything was spinning out of control.
I knew that I also needed to makes some changes in other areas of my life. Spending time with God had become a faint memory for me. I wanted to reconnect in a real way, but I was having trouble being committed to my day-to-day relationship with Him.
I needed support that was more than a once-a-week Bible study. I needed people around me to love and guide me through this hurtful time in my life.
At the same time, my friend Vikki, a 30 year-old wife and mother, was just plain overwhelmed. With her two active kids, and another on the way, she was feeling the pressures of keeping it all together. In addition to taking care of her family, Vikki worked outside the home several nights a month, and was the women’s ministry leader at our growing church. The fast pace of Vikki’s life was threatening to swallow her up if she didn’t makes some changes immediately.
Another friend, Angela, young and vibrant at 34, had an even more desperate situation. Complicating her busy life caring for her two small girls, her health was in serious jeopardy and she knew that she had to take some radical steps including losing weight and exercising in order to start restoring herself physically so that she could lead a normal life.
All of us were longing for change. We wanted to live healthier lives, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Each of us needed help figuring out what God designed us to do, but we also needed a way of making sure that we stayed on track- someone to hold our feet to the fire.
I asked Angela and Vikki if they would be interested in trying an accountability group. I was honest and upfront,” I had no idea how it would work, but I am so frustrated and scared that I am willing to try just about anything. I guess we can just make it up as we go along?” Apparently, they were just as desperate and we decided to meet the next week.
That was eight years ago, and we are still supporting each other, praying for each other and holding each other in godly accountability.
What is Accountability?
Accountability is simply having to report to someone the progress you are making on an activity. When you work in an office, you’re accountable to a boss for the work that she assigns you. Even if you are a self-starter, most of us need that little bit of outside pressure to get our jobs done well and on time. What do you do when you‘re running a household, your own business, and your own life, and there is no “boss” to answer to? Asking other women to hold you accountable is a great way to have a little bit of that outside pressure to help you stay on track. Vikki, Angela and I sacrifice time from our overcrowded lives to stay accountable to one another because it is biblical and it works. Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Being with one other and holding one another accountable keeps us focused and on task.
How is accountability different than a support group?
Generally support groups include organizations that focus either on a stage of life (including mom’s groups or after divorce groups), or a specific area to overcome (Overeaters Anonyms or Alcoholics Anonyms.) Generally these groups have up to dozens of members at each meeting. While support groups offer an environment to meet with others who are in your situation and the opportunity to learn and be encouraged, there is generally a lower level of follow up for individual members.
Accountability groups offer the chance to meet with one or two other people in order to stay focused on whatever area of their life they are trying to grow in at that time. While neither Angela nor Vikki are writers or step-mothers, they are able to hold me accountable in those areas by following-up on the goals I have set for myself and shared with them at past gatherings.
What it looks like for us
We came to our once a month meetings prepared with our goals already written out. I dedicate one sheet of paper to each area of my life. There is a page dedicated to health, another for important relationships in my life, one for household management, and so on. Sometimes my goal list will be much longer in one area than another. When one of my kids needs special attention, or I have good friend who is going through a tough time, I may have several goals on my “Relational” page, but almost none in another area. Along with each goal, we set a target date that we want to see the goal completed by. For instance, on my “Spiritual” goal sheet, I might write: Goal Date of Completion Join Bible study September 15th
When we write out our goals, we try to be specific and realistic. Instead of setting a goal of get better at cooking, I might write “Try three new main courses from the new Greek Cookbook”, or “Sign up for the Asian cooking class at the community center.” When I started to focus more on spending time with God, Angela reminded me to be specific and realistic. At first, I had written the goal down as “Spend 45 minutes every day in prayer and quiet time.” Angela graciously but firmly challenged me on my completely unrealistic goal. “Kath, how are you going to go from 0 to 45 minutes? Why don’t you start with five minutes a day and build on that.” From that five minute block of time, I have grown into having a meaningful and significant quiet time every day.
When we first started meeting eight years ago, we were in for a reality check. Over the first few months of sharing, we learned to gently say to each other, “Wow, that looks like a lot to accomplish with two kids and everything else going on in your life. Is it realistic? Is there something that you could give up or move to another month?” We have learned to protect each other from overextending ourselves, and in turn, have learned to take care of our own schedules and bodies.
The next time we get together, we give each person 40 minutes to go over last month’s goals and set out her vision for the next month. We make copies of our goals that we can pass out to the other two. That way, we have an easier time checking in with each other.
Between each meeting, we stay up to date on where each of us is in meeting our goals set out at the last meeting, as well as asking for additional support when we need it. For example, the weeks before I moved to a different city, I needed more support, what we lovingly call “kick-butt accountability”, in staying focused and on track with getting my house packed up and ready to be sold. During those pressure-filled weeks, I would receive several phone calls a day asking how my plan was going. Just knowing that Vikki or Angela could be calling at any moment gave me the extra push I needed to stay on track and tackle what had to be done.
Your accountability group can also be focused on one specific area of your life. I have separate groups for more complex goals I am currently on: health and writing. These groups give me the special support I need to accomplish bigger projects in those areas.
The Benefits of Accountability
Our group has gotten the three of us through life together. Angela and Vikki have prayed and held me accountable through the hardest time of my life. During the rough days, it was a huge comfort to know that I had two godly women who knew what I was going through and could remind me that God had designed me for a greater purpose than what I felt like at the moment.
Following my divorce, I really wrestled with the question of where God was in my life. I felt abandoned and unloved. It was Vikki and Angela who reminded me of all that God had brought me through, and pointed out all the ways that God continued to care for me even when I couldn’t feel his presence.
Getting through rough times is a blessing, but the most thrilling part of accountability is seeing the progress in each other’s lives. It’s been an honor to stand with Angela and Vikki as I’ve seen them accomplish goals that none of us would have dreamed possible just a few short years ago. From keeping our houses clean, to losing weight to opening a small business to walking a half marathon–no goal is too big to not be supported. On the flip side, no goal is too small that it is not celebrated when it is reached. Plus, the biggest honor was to have these two ladies celebrate with me as bridesmaids at my wedding to Roger. While people who attended the wedding were excited to celebrate our new lives together, Angela and Vikki were two of the people who had walked me back to a place of loving and growing in God – a place of health and healing. These women were not only celebrating the future I had with Roger, but the past that they had walked me though to get to the place where I could be part of a healthy marriage.
In the comments below tell me if you are part of an accountability group and if not if you have asked someone to be your accountability partner after reading this. You could win Cindi McMenamin’s book Women on the Edge: Turning Desperate Times into Desire for God