What we really need when we’re suffering

On one of the busy highways near our house, it’s nothing out of the ordinary to see hundreds of semi-trucks passing through.

What is out of the ordinary is that on one Sunday a year, more than 300 trucks travel a 28-mile loop at 30-40 miles per hour, and people pull over and line the roads and bridges to watch.

It’s an intentional convoy in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, one part of a day full of activities raising money and celebrating the work of an organization that is in the trenches with families whose lives revolve around illnesses, hospital visits, doctors and medicines.

We first learned about this convoy last year when, from our house near the highway, we heard honking and sirens. Neither is unusual for the area in which we live, but it sounded like something major was going on. We couldn’t find any reports on the live incident website that is our standard source of information, and then we must have googled it or something and we found out that this is an on-purpose cacophony.

This year, we decided to set up a blanket at the park and watch the convoy, instead of just listening to the sounds of it from afar.

What an amazing experience.

The speed limit on the highway is 65-plus, yet people lined the roadway, sitting in lawn chairs, or in their cars with the hatches open. Dozens of people gathered at the park, and the overpasses, also, drew a crowd of onlookers.wpid-20150510_142657.jpg

We waited till we heard the first sounds and then it got exciting as we waved to the trucks that passed by.

I can only imagine what was going through the minds of those traveling on the highway that day. Some of them waved at us. Others took the first opportunity to pass the slow-moving trucks. Some seemed oblivious that anything was out of the norm.

How can they not notice? I thought.

Imagine you are in a battle. A fight for your life. Or the life of someone you love. Or for your marriage. Or for sanity.

Whatever the battle, it is day in, day out. No vacation. No rest. There is never time off.

You are weary. Exhausted. Tired in soul and spirit and body and mind. What little rest you get is plagued by worries and nightmares and fears. Maybe there’s an occasional respite. Maybe not. But no matter what, you press on. You show up to do the next hard thing. And the next. And you don’t know when or how or where or if it will end or end well.

Most of the people you know are either oblivious to the battle or fighting their own similar battle and so you either find yourself at a loss for words trying to describe what it’s like or you’re commiserating with people whose situations are as bad or worse than yours.

Hope. Joy. They’re in short supply.

But then something crazy happens. A bunch of people get together and they acknowledge your pain. More than that, they see it. And they say, “We’re here for you. Even if we don’t really know how to help, we’re with you. You’re not forgotten. Keep fighting. Keep going.”

They call everyone they know and they pick a day and they donate their time and fuel for their vehicles and they say, “We don’t care what it costs us, we’re going to make some noise for your cause.”

And then they do that. They make a whole lot of noise. Horns and sirens and engine brakes. For 28 miles, anyone within ear shot knows that something big is happening. And they attract attention. People who otherwise might not remember that there are people suffering and fighting and battling hard stuff show up and they cheer and they say, “We’re with you, too.”

For one day, instead of a weary warrior, you’re practically a celebrity. You are riding in semi-trucks and fire trucks and dump trucks, waving to people who are with you and for you, even if they have no idea who you are.

For one day, you are celebrated. And seen. For one day, you believe you can make it another day.

I have not personally watched anyone battle cancer. My kids have not spent more than a couple of nights in the hospital in their entire lives. I don’t know what it’s like to center your entire life on hospital visits and medicines. I have watched from the outside as family members live this life, and I have felt helpless. And inspired. I’ve said the wrong thing and done the wrong thing or done or said nothing, which is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

I do not know physical suffering, but I have known emotional suffering. The battle was not for my  body but my mind, not for a sick kid but a marriage in need of healing.

So I can’t speak for families with cancer or terminal illnesses, but I know that when we were suffering, what we needed was what I saw at the convoy.   We needed cheerleaders. People to stand with us and encourage us, to see our suffering and acknowledge it existed. To convince us that another day of fighting through was worth it. That we weren’t alone.

Some of our best memories of our season of suffering are of people who stood by us and didn’t give up. Who loved us and prayed for us and stood with us in the most difficult days. When our heads were filled with sadness and despair, they made some noise in the form of encouragement and truth. They believed what we couldn’t, that we would get through this and good would come of it.

I know that those are sometimes the wrong words to say, or sometimes they are said at the wrong time, but whether spoken out loud or not, they are an important message to  those who are suffering. Sometimes, they are “spoken” just by showing up.wpid-20150510_134834.jpg

In reality, there are lots of things we need when we’re suffering, but there’s no one-size-fits-all list of what that is. Every situation, every person, every family will require something different.

But I don’t know anyone in any kind of suffering who couldn’t use a friend. Even an imperfect one, willing to show up, ask questions, and do the wrong thing with the right heart is a blessing.

Nobody wants to fight alone or be forgotten.

Suffering is a lonely place sometimes.

Take a page from the book of a truck convoy. Show up. Make some noise. Cheer them on.

What have you most appreciated from people in a time of suffering? What have you least appreciated?

What ways do you show people you care when they are facing tough times?

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