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We all feel at times like we're running on a hamster wheel. Just running, around and around, with no end in sight. Today, though, you jumped off! You left the dishes piled in the sink and ran to a friend who needed a shoulder to cry on. Or maybe you left work early, even though your desk was covered with paperwork, to buy Christmas presents for kids at the battered women and children's shelter down the road.
Whatever it was you did for someone else, it felt good. You traded all the tasks on your todo list for something of greater significance. And you noticed something. Nothing dreadful happened. The earth kept spinning on its axis. No natural disasters could be traced back to your change in schedule.
In fact, sometimes it's exactly when life seems to be spinning out of control when you just don't think you could possibly help anybody else because your life is such a mess that we need to reach out. Somehow you just do it, and afterward you know why it pays to go the extra mile.
Who knows, maybe you really needed that walk more than the person who asked you to join her. At any rate, it sure beats running on that wheel.
The phone rang as Cheryl was starting another load of laundry. It was the third one she'd done that day, along with cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the entire house, mopping the kitchen floor, and taking care of the three children all while her husband sat in his home office leisurely working at the computer. Cheryl had thought Gary's going into business for himself and having his office at home would be great for the family. But now she realized that meanther husband never left work. Working was all he seemed to be doing these days.
"I'm not answering!" Cheryl hollered to Gary. "I don't have time to talk to anyone." She knew she sounded haggard. That was how she felt, and she wanted Gary to know it. Today was Saturday. She'd been trying to make her feelings known all week.
Ring, ring. "This is the Stone residence. Sorry we missed your call..." Cheryl could hear the answering machine from the hall. Figures, she thought. Gary can't even take the time to answer the phone around here. Then she muttered under her breath to whoever might be calling. "Don't hold your breath. 'As soon as possible' is gonna be a while."
Gary had decided to quit his job to become an independent contractor three months earlier with Cheryl's full support. He had plenty of computer expertise, and they felt confident he could get enough consulting work to make a good living. She just hadn't realized how hard he would have to work to make that happen.
For all her grumpiness, Cheryl knew Gary was a good husband. He'd always participated fully with the three children, waking up for nighttime feedings when they were babies, taking turns shuttling the oldest to school and practice for whatever sport was in season. He'd stop by the grocery store or the pizza place on the way home from work to pick up supper, and he'd throw in a load or reaching out two of laundry when necessary. They had been a good team always busy, but somehow it had worked. Until recently.
Cheryl understood that Gary was feeling the burden of responsibility to make it in his new venture and be able to support the family. This is only for a little while, until he gets going, she kept telling herself. But lately the positive self-talk was being drowned out by self-pity. Sure, he's working, but I work full-time too, plus I'm doing everything else around here. Their second-grader had homework at least a couple of nights a week, and the twin toddlers were a handful the house seemed in a continual state of disaster. Cheryl was worn out and at the end of her rope. And when Gary didn't answer the phone, it felt like the last straw.
Her mental grumbling was interrupted by the voice on the answering machine. "Cheryl, this is Laura. I was hoping we could do something fun together this evening. I really need a break from the hospital and could use someone to talk to."
Cheryl immediately felt awful. That was her best friend in the entire world. Laura's father had had a stroke on Monday. The doctors didn't think he would ever fully recover. Cheryl had gone to the hospital when it happened but had been so busy since then that she'd hardly even checked on Laura, except for one measly call to ask how her dad was doing.
I have to call her back, she thought, but there's no way I can go. There was more laundry to do, bills to pay, and groceries to shop for. Besides, who would watch the kids? If she left them home while Gary was working, they'd just destroy the house she'd worked all day to clean. She'd never get all the chores done before the new week started and they piled up all over again. She picked up the phone to somehow gracefully decline the invitation.
"When are you leaving?" Gary hollered.
"What do you mean, when am I leaving?" she retorted, not bothering to disguise her aggravation.
"I mean, I think you should go," Gary said with a smile as he joined her in the kitchen. "I'll stay home with the kids and keep the laundry going and do whatever else was on your list for the day."
"But what about your work?"
"It can wait. Your friend is more important. Besides, you need a little fun in your life too."
I couldn't agree more! she thought. "I don't know what's gotten into you, but I'll take you up on that offer!" Cheryl hugged her husband and happily picked up the phone to dial her best friend before he had a chance to change his mind.
After a quick conversation and a plan for Cheryl to pick up Laura at the hospital so they could ride together and talk on the way to the restaurant, Cheryl threw on some lipstick, slipped on her boots, kissed the kids goodbye, and was out the door. She turned around quickly though, poked her head back inside, and yelled, "Don't forget to give the kids baths so they're clean for church in the morning." Her step was feeling a little lighter, but the knot in her stomach that had grown and tightened over the past few months was still there.
When she arrived at the hospital, Cheryl was struck by what a difficult thing Laura must be going through. She was an only child, and she had lost her mother just two years before. Somehow, though, Cheryl couldn't quite stop her mind from drifting back to her own problems.
"Thanks so much for rescuing me," Laura said as she met her friend at the front desk. "I can't tell you how much I needed this."
"Well, I have to admit, my life has been crazy lately, and getting away seemed almost too monumental a task when I first heard your message." Then, guiltily, "But I always have time for you."
As the two friends walked through the parking garage, the conversation kept going back to Cheryl and how stressful her situation was. She knew she should be letting her friend vent instead of complaining. But she couldn't stop worrying about whether her husband was really doing what he said he would or if he had slipped back to his office. She was going to lose it if she came home to a houseful of chores and dirty children.
As they approached the car, she noticed Laura looking in the window of an old brown Chevy Caprice that had definitely seen better days. Cheryl muttered an attempt at humor, "I think they need to haul that clunker off to the junkyard."
But Laura didn't laugh. She started rummaging in her reaching out overcrowded purse. Cheryl saw her friend pull out a paper from her wallet and lean into the open window of the "clunker."
"Oh!" Cheryl stuttered. "I I hope I didn't offend you by making fun of that car. Were you leaving a note for someone you know?"
"No," Laura replied somewhat mysteriously. "Come on; let's go enjoy a wonderful meal. I'm sick of hospital food."
But Cheryl's curiosity was aroused. She came around to where Laura was standing and peeked into the window of the old car. A bright yellow notice with a red FINAL stamp on it was lying face-up on the seat. It was an electric bill for $98.99. Then something else caught her eye. Tucked under that notice, just barely showing, was the corner of what looked like money.
Cheryl knew instantly what Laura had done. Her friend had always been kind-hearted, but seeing her do something that generous in the midst of such a difficult time in her life brought tears to Cheryl's eyes. What a contrast to my wallowing in self-pity, she thought, ashamed. Today, while she'd been busy thinking only of herself, her husband had set aside what he was doing and thought of her. And her friend, who was in the midst of her own turmoil, had listened to Cheryl's little grievances and helped someone she didn't even know. It was a living illustration of how to set aside her problems and think of someone else.
She turned and hugged Laura as tightly as she could. "Thanks, Laura."
"For what? I didn't give you the money," Laura joked.
"For reminding me how truly blessed I am."
from Hugs to Brighten Your Day by Ashley Moore & Korie Robertson