She was holding my baby, tears streaming down her face, and I hardly knew her.
Our daughters had been playing together wild and free, strangers prior, discovering each other in the midst of dress-up fairy wings at our local children’s museum. She and I laugh at the ease with which friendships are formed at their age.
We chat. It is fine, we keep it safe. And then I need help:
I have to put my baby sling back on after nursing my newborn but can’t find an acceptable place to lay my five-week old as I get situated. I look at this woman, this stranger really, and think, I could ask her to hold my baby for a second while I got assembled and it wouldn’t be completely weird, right?
I ask, she gladly accepts and nuzzles that newborn right up on her shoulder and begins rocking back and forth in the mama sway that we all somehow know. I look at this woman no older than myself, and there she is, crying big tears right in the middle of the fairy wings.
Unsure of what exactly is going on, I ask, “How old is your daughter?” hoping this question allows her to share however much she wants, shows her that I see her.
“Oh, she’s five and I have a seven-year-old too,” she says. “I wanted to have more, but right when we were going to start trying again I learned that I had thyroid cancer.”
And there it is. Her hardest truth, spilling over with her tears in the Denver Children’s Museum.
“Oh gosh. That is so hard,” I respond. And then I said something I can’t even remember about curve balls and life and later all I could do was pray that what I said was water to a parched soul and not patronizing and awkward.
I let her hold my baby longer than I would have another stranger. I watch her sway, Mae’s head nestled into her neck. Her eyes close and I can see the battle in her mind.
As she moved in the back and forth motion, I stood conflicted. In my heart, I cheered her on. I welcomed the fact that she didn’t just keep it polite and expected. But I also felt myself desperately searching for the right thing to say — nothing I could think of sounded fitting. It all seemed too big and baggy.
I think of her as I continue to examine myself, the self-proclaimed truth-teller who got tongue-tied when someone else broke down her walls and invited me into her hard truth. Here is what I have landed on: Sometimes authenticity feels awkward. When most of our interactions revolve around the light and delicate words of “I’m good, and you?” telling our truth can feel clunky. It can be hard to share what’s real.
But feeling alone is even harder.
We read about the paralyzed man and his friends in Matthew 9 and realize that is our story too: Sometimes we need our friends to carry us to the feet of Jesus. When we invite others into our hurts, we learn we’re not alone after all, and neither are they. We become a little bit stronger but they do too because again and again and again if we need it, we carry each other to the only One who offers true healing.
Even if it feels awkward to admit how we’re actually doing, even if it feels more comfortable to steer conversation toward your latest Netlix binge than why you were crying last night, it is worth it to invite another to help you carry your heavy things, every single time.
To hold the weightier matters, to step into the heavier words of how we’re actually doing, requires muscles that can handle actually being with one another in all parts of our lives — the broken as well as the whole. And those little reminders that we’re not competing and we need not try to impress each other but that we’re all in this together are actually not awkward at all.