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My Shower as Sacred Space

I call my shower my revelation chamber.

I cannot tell you how many talks and posts and lessons and essays and parenting practices and journal entries and important discussions have been spiritually created in that small space in my bathroom. While the warm water washes over my tired body every night, my mind and spirit become more uncluttered from the stuff of the day, and I am able to hear the Lord’s voice more easily.

As of late, however, showering has been a source of aggravation for me as well. Recently, while drying myself off, I grimaced as I glared at the layers of gook covering the door and walls of the shower stall.

“I need help,” I cried out loud, with only God to hear my cries. A feeling of desperation crept into my gut. Because of a recent downturn in my health, I was falling further and further behind in my household chores, and my shower was a constant reminder of all that I was not getting done. And I simply couldn’t find the strength to do it. (Nevermind the fact that crouching and bending exacerbate the dizziness and headaches and muscle fatigue that afflict my body right now.)

At first I thought I could just ask my husband for help, but he, too, is swamped — in part because he already does so much to help me with my load. (It should go without saying that chronic illness taxes the whole family.)

I started going through names in my mind. I didn’t know whom to ask. And I didn’t know how to ask. (I couldn’t picture myself picking up the phone and saying, “Hey, what are you doing today? Can you come clean my showers?”)

Not two weeks ago, I had a talk with one of my local priesthood leaders about how hard it is to have chronic health struggles. Our stake focus is on self-reliance, and yet…and yet…. He reminded me that sometimes we need to ask for help. I followed his counsel to ask my home teachers for something recently, but this — this was still just too much for me.

But then — would you believe it? — last week, I received an unsolicited message from a friend. Even though she didn’t know all the details, she knew I was struggling, and wanted to help. “Don’t be noble, now,” she said. “Let me come and do something.”

My instinct was to pretend that I really was fine, that I had things under control, that I really didn’t need help.

But I did. Desperately.

So I gulped as my pride and embarrassment rose like bile in my heart, and said, “OK. I could really use help cleaning my showers.”

I fretted and regretted sending that reply.

But she was gracious and gentle in her responses, thanking me for the opportunity to serve. She threw in a good dose of humor, too, telling me she would throw a shoe at me if I cleaned before she came. (I confess that I did, but not much. We women are so predictable, aren’t we?)

Today was the day. (Gulp.) My friend came with a smile, a hug, stories of her own housecleaning horrors, and three darling daughters who sprayed and scrubbed and served a struggling stranger for over two hours.

That’s about ten hours of work. Ten hours of work that I don’t have to do.

I feel about ten pounds lighter.

While they worked, I tackled piles of paperwork and other things that needed to be done. Before I knew it, they were quietly scurrying out the door, trying hard to escape without ado. I know they didn’t want fanfare, and I imagine that they could sense, too, that this was all hard for me.

In a way, I’m glad they left so quickly, because I had determined not to cry, and I just might have lost it had I tried to really express my feelings.

As reflected on all of this today, I was reminded of something I read recently in the Ensign:

Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made….

There is an interdependence between those who have and those who have not. … We are all self-reliant in some areas and dependent in others. Therefore, each of us should strive to help others in areas where we have strengths. At the same time, pride should not prevent us from graciously accepting the helping hand of another when we have a real need. To do so denies another person the opportunity to participate in a sanctifying experience.
– Marion G. Romney

To my friend and her daughters, if you are reading this, thank you. Thank you for taking time out of your crazy-busy schedules to serve and help me. Thank you also for being sensitive to my sensitivity about letting you into my messy life.

My shower will continue to be a sacred place to me not only because of the way the Lord communicates to me there, but because smooth, clean tile and glass will be a reminder for days and weeks to come of the way God heard my cries and sent you to my aid.

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • davidson March 2, 2009, 11:43 pm

    Your shower is not the only sacred space revealed in this thread; you’ve just revealed what a sacred space your heart is. I’m sorry beyond words for the ongoing health crisis you’re facing, and I worry and worry about you. How I wish I could be a next door neighbor who could come to scrub your shower, dear, or do anything else that needs doing. It is much harder to be the taker, and you have revealed your humility in being willing to be served and being genuinely grateful for the service. I remember that after I had a ruptured tubal pregnancy, I couldn’t even wipe my kitchen table with a cloth. I also couldn’t ask my husband or children to do it, feeling, as you did, that I had already overburdened them with my many health problems. I’ll never forget the neighbor who waltzed in and said, “Oh, it looks like your table needs to be wiped,” and she wiped it and did some other things and left, having scattered cheer at my house. That unwiped table was so hard for me to look at, so difficult for me to bear. Her little act of service was probably my all-time favorite, because she saw a need and was inspired to fill it.

    When my husband’s aunt was dying of cancer, a ward member thought of bringing cookies to her. Then she decided that what this aunt needed most was not the cookies themselves, but the SMELL of them baking in her home. She came to my aunt’s home, explained what she was going to do, and spent the afternoon filling the house with the smell of love, which meant a lot to a woman lying in a bed whose full-time occupation was just to breathe in and out. She couldn’t eat the cookies, but she could breathe them in. Before she died, my husband’s aunt mentioned this incident as her favorite service among the many that were rendered to her, and the story was told at her funeral.

    It’s a tough call, knowing what people need most, because they sometimes don’t know themselves or can’t bring themselves to say. But God knows, and the Spirit knows, and if we watch and listen carefully and put ourselves in the position, we can be prompted to do just the right thing. Something, even the wrong thing, is probably better than nothing. People improve by practicing, and as they practice giving thoughtful service, they become better at it, not quite so clumsy. What a gift it is, when people who have a real need quietly allow themselves to be served so that others can practice that fine art. When the receiver is patient with the clumsy but usually well-meaning service someone else chooses to give, it blesses both of them. Then, when the person is well and ready to serve again, she will have greater empathy for the next one who is called by God to be served.

    After being served so often it was getting embarrassing, I had a turn to be a compassionate service leader. I learned to say to the afflicted one, not “What do you need?”, but “May we please do something for you?”, followed by some careful suggestions. When I was flat in bed and leaders called and said, “What do you need?”, I said, as a matter of course, “I’m just fine, thank you, and we don’t need anything,” although with nine kids at home, we really, really did. They acted relieved and hung up. But if a kind friend called and said, “May I please do something to help you? Bring in dinner, or watch your kids?”, and I could tell the concern was genuine, it was so much easier to say, “Yes, I have a need.” Most people don’t like to be seen as needy and will go to great lengths to avoid being viewed that way.

  • mlinford March 3, 2009, 12:14 am

    Whoa, davidson, you have me bawling. (The cookies story especially.)

    So beautifully put. Thank you. You have summed up my thoughts so well, better than I could have.

    Actually, btw, my humility really was quite lacking in many ways. It was so HARD. But it’s because this friend offered specific help, offered her strength (she could clean, and do it well and fast) where I was weak…she opened the door to make it easier for me to ask for the help.

    I am just so grateful. I had to capture this all while it was still fresh. (And now I am going to go shower! woohoo!)

    And know, davidson, that the moral and spiritual support I receive here from friends matters and helps in its own real way. Thank you. Sometimes it’s even just knowing that people are praying for you, thinking of you, that helps, ya know? I don’t mean to sound like such a whiner these days, but it does help me to be honest about where I am, so thanks for your concern.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 3, 2009, 10:39 am

    What a sweet article, Michelle. I so hope your health issues are resolved soon so you can have the life you really want.

    I think it says something that you were willing to accept service from others. I’ve been such a failure at figuring out the helpful thing to do in my life, that even trying to give service is almost an ordeal. I’ve written about that before. I truly believe that letting our needs be known is, in and of itself, a service to others, because it takes away some of that ordeal for those who are willing to help but are clueless about where to start. Bless you for swallowing that lump in your throat. I’m sure that your friend and her daughters were as blessed as you were.

  • mlinford March 3, 2009, 12:51 pm

    Like I said, Alison, in this situation, had it not been for the specific offer of my friend to help, I probably wouldn’t have asked. It was that and the recent counsel from my leader to risk in that way…he reminded me that people need the blessings of service, too. That was fresh in my mind when my friend offered.

    But I agree with you that letting our needs be known is an important part of service, and that is part of why I wrote this article…not only to thank my friend publicly (I hope she and her daughters read it), but also to open up this topic. That quote from Pres. Romney really struck me; we each will be both in need and able to serve, perhaps all at the same time! I am not so good helping someone clean right now, but I can listen (I’m good at lying on the couch with the phone!). Or empathize. Or share what is helping me through my hard times.

    This experience reiterated to me the importance of swallowing my pride. People can’t always read my minds and know when I need help. I can help them help me. Our hearts can be knit together as we learn to serve and to be served. That interdependence is, imo, part of mortality. We need each other, and I think we are *supposed* to need each other to help us grow together in love and unity.

    Alison, I have prayed specifically that those four sisters will be blessed.

  • kiar March 3, 2009, 2:36 pm

    Michelle, I can definatly sympathise. I am also a stubborn mulehead when it comes to asking for help. (I’ll tell you someday about my experiences with dizzy and barfy and ick!)
    I never let anyone do anything for me, and now I regret it. I became very depressed because I was shutting myself off from eveyone, and telling them I was fine. Now that the problem has been mostly resolved, I watch myself doing the same thing. When I am having a bad day and anyone asks, I tell them I am fine. (we are in a new ward that has no idea about before)

    Don’t let yourself fall too far. Let people serve you. My Bishop in our last ward told me one day when I was having a very hard time with accepting help: “Sister Shaw, your job right now is to let others preform service for you. Your turn will come when the Lord says it is time. Just accept it!”

    Whether your health issues resolve, vanish or continue, you must know that Heavenly Father loves you. He is sending you help when you need it! He hears you and wants to hold you close while you cry. Let us do that for him.
    I may not know you in person, but because you are my sister in the gospel, and as a woman, I want you know that I am here and will listen and will hold your hand in spirit.


  • Alison Moore Smith March 3, 2009, 2:38 pm

    Michelle, I don’t know if you intended it, but every time I see the title or your article, I start singing it to the tune of “The Temple is a Sacred Place.” You probably did that on purpose!

  • Oregonian March 3, 2009, 2:57 pm

    good story mlinford. glad you got some help from the good samaritan. next time you talk to her send her my way. my shower needs her.

  • agardner March 3, 2009, 3:16 pm

    Michelle, this was really beautiful. It goes along well with Heather’s thread too, in a way.

    Serena, I love what you said about phrasing the offer of help differently than normal. If you say, “Do you need anything?” or “Let me know if you need anything,” I can almost guarantee that you will never get a request from most people, even when they really need it and you are very sincere in your offer.

    “May I please do something for you?” is much better. And maybe even a step further, “I would really like to help you out. What do you need the most right now?”

  • davidson March 3, 2009, 3:47 pm

    I learned a good question from my sister. She learned to ask, “What are you most worried about?” Lot’s of times they will reveal their worries when asked that way.

  • Michelle D March 4, 2009, 1:31 am

    Thank you for this, Michelle! I wish I could express how much this touched me, how much it resonates with me, and how much it highlights my own desires to have my personal needs met. I can’t do it alone. Your faith and strength in the face of your trials helps me face my own.

    My shower is also my place for answers, blog post formulations, rants, and prayers. I love the quote by Elder Romney.

    I know I am so blessed when I am able to help others, and yet it is so difficult to open up and allow others to help me. However, I am learning how to do so. Some needs are easier to share and receive help; others far more difficult. Sometimes I feel like the poor, cast out Zoramites, many of whom were “compelled to be humble.”

    I am so grateful that you have a clean shower! Rather than the former reminder of all you could not do because of your chronic illness, now it is a visible reminder of the love and care of friends and of learning important lessons in true service. What a gift!

  • mlinford March 4, 2009, 1:40 am

    Michelle, I feel the same way about how you are sharing your thoughts and insights and other things in your trials, and they strengthen me.

    now it is a visible reminder of the love and care of friends and of learning important lessons in true service. What a gift!

    What a gift, indeed! It has also been a bit of a momentum-starter, so I feel a little more able to tackle the other stuff that needs my attention. I emptied out a box of clothes today that was piled in my room! Yeah!

  • Alison Moore Smith March 4, 2009, 10:12 am

    Angie and Serena, I really appreciate those questions! More than you can probably know. I think the will be helpful to me in the future.

    Way to go, Michelle!

    Oh, there’s an ancient service article that some of you might like, if you haven’t seen it.

  • Michelle D March 4, 2009, 11:51 am

    I agree that Angie’s and Serena’s questions are amazing ways for others to be able to open up more easily when they really need some help! Much better than “Let me know if you need anything.”

  • davidson March 4, 2009, 12:24 pm

    I thought your “ancient service article” was really, really good, Alison. There was a lot of thoughtful discussion from a lot of different angles, and I’d never seen that particular article before. Thank you so much. Really worth reading through, if you haven’t yet. 🙂

  • Michelle D March 4, 2009, 2:30 pm

    I just posted the following in a comment on Heather’s article but wanted to include it here as well, as it is applicable for both discussions.

    There is such a fine line between service and self-reliance. My experience has been that sometimes I need to be self-reliant and at other times I need to allow others to help me. The key has been figuring out which challenges require which action! I’m still trying to figure that out… I do know that sometimes I am faced with challenges so great that NOT asking for and accepting help is emotionally suicidal. And often the best way to help is only known when we open ourselves up and let others know what our needs really are. Being vulnerable like that is so difficult! And yet I have seen tremendous blessings for me and for those who serve me at those times I have been able to reach that point.

  • facethemusic March 6, 2009, 4:48 pm

    Michelle, Michelle, Michelle! This was SOOOOO wonderful! I’ve been so incredibly swamped for the past week that I haven’t even had time to check in at Mormon Momma, and I’m so happy that when I finally had a few minutes to do it, that this was the first thing I read.
    This was so beautifully expressed — my heart fell to read about your pain– both physically and emotionally, but i was so touched and moved to hear that some angels were inspired to do something to help.
    To be honest, I’ve been very blessed with good health– it’s something that I frequently express gratitude for in my prayers. Even still, it’s hard and stressful enough to keep up with the kids, their schedules and activities, the home, callings, work, etc, and I’m perfectly HEALTHY (besides my big bootie) — so I can only imagine how much harder it would be if I had some sort of chronic illness.
    I remember well a RS lesson taught by one of my good friends back in my old ward in South Carolina many moons ago. She talked about the all too common phrase used by Visiting Teachers (and I’m guilty myself) “If you need anything, just let me know.” But so many people do not ask for help, even when they really need it. (I’m one of those people myself– though I’ve been blessed in that I’ve very RARELY really needed it, and on those few occasions, good friends and family have always jumped in to help without being asked) It really is a blessing to have people who are in tune with you, and with the Spirit, to know when help is needed. It takes a true and sincere DESIRE for a charitable heart and the pure love of Christ to be able to recognize peoples’ needs, even if you don’t know WHAT they need specifically, but just to FEEL “this person needs me”. On the other hand, I know a few people, for whom I’m CERTAIN that this is their gift of the Spirit– and if there’s such a thing as “righteous envy”, I have “righteous envy” for such a gift and need to do more to earn it and work towards it.
    My prayers are with you— and if it’s any consolation.. my shower is “scummy” too, and I don’t really have an excuse! 🙂

  • facethemusic March 6, 2009, 6:02 pm

    Oh! And by the way– this

    I call my shower my revelation chamber

    is awesome! LOVE IT!
    And I totally relate!! I’ve had many an epiphany in the shower myself! A few of my songs were “written” there, too.
    Something about that warm water spilling over my face….

  • mlinford March 6, 2009, 6:23 pm

    Tracy, thanks. I’m actually doing better this week, in part, I think because of this help…and also the therapy of writing this post and realizing that I didn’t have to hate myself for needing help.

    I have a funny p.s. to this story…another way this all blessed me. I got so used to the scummy door that it might as well have been frosted. It has been weird to shower with a clear door. I am determined to keep it clean. So, the other night, I closed the door and turned on the auto shower cleaner (that now doesn’t work, probably because it has so much scum on it).

    The cleaner didn’t work, but closing the door helped me realize that all of these YEARS I have been keeping the door open to let the shower air out have actually ADDED to the problem…the metal at the bottom of the door always got so goopy, and it dropped goop on my floor and the T-shirts and towels I put there to catch the drainage.

    I had even filled the groove at one point with caulk, thinking that the door’s design was just off.

    The next morning after I had shut the door, the drainage groove was completely dry. I tried it again.

    Good grief. All I had to be doing to keep my door (and floor) a lot cleaner was to shut it so it drained correctly.

    I laughed at myself with that.

    So, blessings keep coming from this little experience.

  • mlinford March 6, 2009, 6:24 pm

    And thanks for the consolation comment, too, Tracy. I’m glad to know I am not completely alone with the soap scum. 🙂

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