There are occasions in which immediate help is required. A doctor to stitch up a badly cut finger. An insurance representative to process a claim. In these cases, a prompt response is necessary and helpful.

There are other times when the support we need isn't only immediate but also sustained. We all know what it means to experience the realities of life in a broken, complicated world. While inhabiting this planet, there are a host of difficult happenings that can occur: addiction, chronic illness, terminal illness, divorce, hunger, depression, abuse, war, or the death of someone we love.

As we face these realities, long-term support can be immensely helpful.

On a Monday evening earlier this month, I sat at a circular table in a dimly lit church fellowship hall. In that same space sat many of the most courageous people I have ever met. It was the annual candle lighting service of a local chapter of Compassionate Friends, and I was invited to be the speaker. Compassionate Friends is an international organization providing support to family members after the death of a child. There are chapters of the organization meeting monthly throughout Minnesota and around the world.

Watching the ways that group members supported one another that evening was impactful. It was a space of unconditional acceptance. The men and women in that room understood the unpredictable nature of grief in a deeply personal way. They all recognized that losing a family member isn't something people get over, it's a reality that they learn to journey with for a lifetime.

The night reminded me of two of the best gifts we can give to one another: support and acceptance. Our listening, loving presence is the ultimate present. Everyone has baggage; everyone has "stuff." That stuff can take a lot of different forms, and at times it can make the whole world appear pretty foggy. Supporting and accepting one another is one way to help increase visibility.

To allow ourselves to seek out and accept the support of others isn't always easy. In fact, it can be one of the hardest things we'll ever do. It can also be one of the healthiest things we'll ever do. Whether it is through counseling, an organized support group, an informal gathering, or a coffee shop conversation with a friend, there are many ways we can nourish supportive relationships. We can simultaneously support and be supported; we can both give and receive encouragement.

It is a great gift to have environments where we can be exactly who we are with our unique histories, beliefs, issues, and hopes. Finding these sacred spaces takes time. It can take several tries to find a good fit in a counselor. A variety of visits might be necessary to discover the right support group dynamic. Vulnerability is required along the way, and that can be scary. It is okay to feel scared. It's normal and we've all been there. (Myself included!)

As 2014 comes to a close in a few short weeks, it is good for us all to ponder how and where we experience acceptance and support. How might your support system expand or evolve in the coming year? Are there places you might offer intentional help to someone else?

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul invites the community to "bear one another's burdens." No one is an island — we are created to live in loving community with others. We are all connected. God of grace, grant us the courage to seek support when we need it, and give us guidance about the ways in which we might provide helpful encouragement to others.

The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor serving at the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Office in Rochester. Visit her blog at www.emilyannecarson.com.

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