On a cold, dark December afternoon, my six year old daughter, Evelyn and I walked into a church building to help assist With Love during a ‘Foster Parent Night Out’ event. The afternoon suddenly became bright as I was greeted by excited volunteers, full of joy, preparing to welcome twenty or more foster children for a night of fun.
Always trying to find ways that my kids can view the world from a selfless lens, I thought that being here, serving alongside With Love would be an excellent opportunity.
Three times a year, With Love partners with several local churches who provide a night of respite for foster parents. Before heading out on a date night, parents can “shop” for items donated by With Love. For the past five years, FPNO and With Love have worked together to create an evening where both foster children and foster parents are celebrated and get a change of pace.
My daughter was eager to help. Growing up alongside younger triplet brothers, she always wanted to be my little helper with them, and serving others has come somewhat naturally to her.
Secretly, I think she was hoping to be adorned with an official name badge and wear a whistle; however, handing out shopping bags was just as satisfying.
Upon entering, we were greeted by Becky Bell, my good friend and neighbor. The Bell family and my family have a special relationship. We’ve known them for over a decade and we now live in the same neighborhood and gather weekly on Sunday afternoons for dinner.
Two other families join us each week, and our kids all play together like cousins. I have learned a lot from Becky’s family over the past few years, as they have been foster parents for the past nine months, their foster children becoming part of our community group’s cluster of children (12 in all!)
Becky has been in charge of FPNO for several years now. She is organized and passionate; she is perfect for this role. I was excited to work along side of her this evening.
When we arrived, she put us to work organizing and displaying a variety of donated Christmas toys. Evelyn went to work right away setting them up, categorizing them by age and gender. She loved it. All those years of playing “store” were finally being put to use!
Other volunteers from With Love were taking inventory of shoes, organizing clothes, and displaying stockings.
Before long, parents and children began filling the room. Most of the kids went happily off to the FPNO volunteers for a night of fun. Grateful and somewhat weary parents came over to our display and selected whatever they wanted from shoes, clothes, toys, diapers and handcrafted pillow cases made especially for With Love by Nike.
They were thrilled. My daughter took it all in, asking questions occasionally such as, “Hey Mom, who bought all these toys? Are they free?”
This past year my husband and I have been focusing on earning allowance in our home and being responsible with money. She now understands the value of a dollar.
“Yes, Evelyn,” I explained, “people buy these toys with their own money and then give them to With Love so foster parents can give Christmas gifts to their children.”
“Wow,” was her response. “That’s really nice of them.”
Evelyn was eager to help and it was obvious that she didn’t come to sit around. She was assigned the job of handing out shopping bags to the foster parents so that they could carry their toys and clothes.
I could tell that she was taking this all in. She watched as one of the FPNO volunteers lovingly held a crying toddler and tried to comfort him by walking around the room and talking to him gently.
She observed the foster parents who expressed such gratitude at all that was provided. She listened to them talk about their lives and their kids.
She was in the midst of selflessness. The room was filled with people serving someone else with joy and love.
The life of a typical American child is naturally just the opposite. Weekends filled with birthday parties, soccer games and children’s TV shows, society very much revolves around them. It takes intentional parenting to prevent raising a child who becomes totally entitled and self focused. Introducing them to a world outside their own at a young age is especially impressionable. I love that I was able to serve with my daughter. I love that she was able to see people love other people and to be a part of it.
Later that weekend we were gathered with our community group. Becky was there, along with a new foster baby placement. All twelve of the kids were seated around the table, ready to eat dinner together. Evelyn volunteered to give the blessing over the meal. We all paused as she began to pray:
“Thank you for this food. Thank you for our friends. And thank you for our new friend here with us.”
Her prayer was unprovoked. It was from the heart. I could tell that she truly saw and acknowledged this new foster child. She was sincerely grateful there was now going to be a new member of our community.
However, my four year old son was a bit confused, “When did you have the baby?” He asked Becky.
“The baby” is 16 months old. I loved being able to explain to my son the beauty of what was actually going on, and what it means to embrace a child that doesn’t come directly from your own DNA.
So, as we enter the New Year, perhaps serving is part of what you want to do more of this year. Maybe it’s serving with your family or with your kids? Maybe you just want to introduce your family to a world outside your own. Or expand your impact, equip yourself to see the surrounding community with a little more depth.
There are a variety of ways to do just this, from “behind the scenes work” to interacting with actual foster parents once a month at FPNO. This is a place where all people and ages can serve together.
Make this year a SelfLess one.