UpClose with Bonnie Smith
by Melissa Caddell
Relationships are a series of concentric circles.
Our innermost circle is made up of immediate family, the middle circle is extended family and friends and the outermost relationship circle is made up of acquaintances. But what do you do when your innermost circle — the circle you depend on most — suffers devastation?
Because of how we connect with our different kinds of relationships, it turns out that each ring is held in place by the structure of the next ring in our circle. As the pressure from inside the circle threatens to obliterate our entire world, the other relational rings absorb the pressure and stand strong. And that’s what happened for Bonnie Smith when her innermost circle exploded.
Six years ago, as Bonnie grappled with a loaded grocery cart, maneuvering it toward the lines at the register, her cell phone rang. Her distracted thoughts quickly came into focus when a nurse on the other end told her to come to the emergency room. Bonnie’s husband, Dana, was having a heart attack. She left her cart in the middle of the store and rushed to the hospital.
The day before he was supposed to be released from the hospital, he had another heart attack, this one fatal. Bonnie, their two children (then ages 7 and 10) and four adult children from their blended family were suddenly left without a husband and father.
When you first meet Bonnie Smith, you’re immediately struck by her outgoing, friendly nature and the quick way she jumps in to do what needs to be done. She’s a giver, and she’ll tell you it’s easier for most of us to help others than it is to receive help. But sometimes, you just need the help.
Bonnie lives in Northern California with her two younger children (Jake, 16 and Meggin, 13) and stays in touch with her four adult stepsons. She also provides care for her mother, who now lives with her.
She’s been involved with MOPS for 13 years in various volunteer and career positions starting in leadership on a local Steering Team and now as a Field Manager. She loves spending time with her kids and cheering them on in various activities. She also enjoys visiting local shops to browse and catch her breath.
How did your friends circle around you?
My husband, Dana, died four days after we moved into a new house. So in addition to the shock of his passing and the details associated with that, there was all the moving stuff to take care of. My friends came and they just did — they did whatever needed to be done. They unpacked, hung family pictures up, moved furniture around and hired a yard service for a year. They filled my fridge with food and my water softener with salt. I didn’t even know I had a water softener. They came alongside me and the kids in very practical ways.
And they still do, along with my extended family. From helping me raise the kids to providing respite care for me with my mom, encouraging words and just calling to check in on me.
Was it hard to be on the receiving end of help?
Yes! (Laughs) When you are always the one doing and giving, it’s hard to let people reciprocate. But that’s the nature of relationships — giving and receiving. It’s hard to receive, sure, but shame on me if I don’t accept help! I believe that people are doing what God has called them to do, and if I don’t let them help me, I’m not allowing them to be blessed by God. It’s hard to admit that I need help because I just want to take care of it myself.
It’s also been interesting for me to see how God works through other people to help me. I’ve been particularly grateful for the way the husbands of my friends invite my youngest son, Jake, to be a part of “guy stuff,” and how they let me pick their brains on the dynamics of being a man so Jake has that influence.
As mothers, how can we learn to receive when we’re in a season of giving a lot of ourselves away?
Moms struggle with balance and boundaries all the time. When your kids are young, you may be their only circle. And when you are someone’s only circle, he or she will suck you dry really quickly. Like the MOPS tagline says, Better moms make a better world. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of others. You have to know where you can find reciprocation in your life.
Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I saw my parents serve people with compassion. They went out of their way to help other people, so it comes more naturally for to me to invest in people like that. When I needed to be on the receiving end in a big way, I think I had a lot of support because I had developed relationships with people — church friends, friends from MOPS and my Steering Team days and neighbors.
It’s been important to me that my kids see a balance too. My mother lives with us, and I am very aware that my kids and I both are giving to her. So I make it a point to set up times where the kids can just be kids — not having to help with an aging relative while dealing with the extra work of having only one parent.
What would you tell moms about building relational circles for themselves and their children?
Be intentional about building relationships. And continue building them — don’t get stuck in just one circle. The more circles you create, the more you’ll sustain yourself and the more you’ll be able to help someone else. Be inclusive, not exclusive. Relationships can be the lifeline you need or that another person needs when you least expect it. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to be a part of blessing someone’s life or to let God bless you through them. God places you where you are at for a reason. It’s OK that building relationships is hard. Find that balance of being a giver and a receiver because the seasons of your life will change what you need.
Photos: (1) Bonnie and her Field Leader Team (Lil, Brenda, Brandi, Vicki and Stephanie attending a MOPS Convention), (2) Dana and Bonnie with their son, Jake, before his open heart surgery (2004). (3) Bonnie with husband Dana and kids, Jake and Meggin, vacationing in Seattle. (4) Bonnie with her Steering Team (Bonnie, Katie, Dorthee, Helena and Tracy) at a MOPS Convention in Ohio.
Melissa Caddell is a writer, speaker and former MOPS mom in the Denver area. She and her husband, Casey, are raising three girls in the ‘burbs. Visit her at: melissacaddell.com.