Friday, January 31, 2014

Love and Acceptance

In my years of working with children as a teacher as well as through my current role at Ascension in Children’s Ministries, I have been privy to children’s thoughts about God and his kingdom as well as witnessing their own spiritual relationship with God blossom and grow as they have come to know him through not only scripture but also through their interaction with others and the world around them. It is a blessing and privilege to be able to watch a child experience God and to see them know and understand God’s love for them in very real ways. In my teaching of young children, I too have become the student and often find myself leaning new lessons from these young stewards of God’s love.  Recently, I again became a student of God’s love from a young child whom I had only just met.

In early January of this year, our family had the opportunity to help prepare and to serve a meal to the families who were guests at our church as part of the Family Promise program. These families are just like you and me and just want a chance to feel “normal” with regular interactions with others such as a conversation at dinner and play dates for their children with other kids. Family Promise gives these families the opportunity to have as much “normalcy” as possible while they are going through homelessness and the process of finding work and homes again.  For whatever reason, I always feel a bit nervous when I come to serve our Family Promise guests. I am afraid I will not say the right thing or that they will perceive me in the wrong way. Although I knew that my fears would soon disappear after meeting the guests, I still felt a bit nervous as we waited for the families to arrive for dinner.
After serving dinner to our Family Promise guests and finding a place at the table, I looked up and realized that my 8 year old daughter was not sitting with us. Emma-Caroline is a very shy child and it takes her some time to warm up and actually talk with others. In my mind, however, I was mortified that she had chosen not to join the families and volunteers for dinner. I mentioned to the guests that she was shy to which a mother smiled and replied, “We noticed when she came in here earlier.” My fear of offending our Family Promise guests was on hyper alert and I immediately set out to find her. On looking for Emma-Caroline, I discovered she was sitting alone and eating on the stage in the Parish Hall. I immediately asked her why she didn’t want to eat with the families and heard myself saying inside my head, “this is rude behavior!” Before those words actually came out of my mouth, a young boy in third grade joined me. Jared sat down next to Emma-Caroline, asked her name and sincerely said, “It’s OK if you’re shy. I’ll sit here and eat with you if you’d like!” Emma-Caroline smiled and accepted his invitation.  Jared smiled back and replied, “And now you have one more friend, me!” As I stood speechless beside these two children, I felt tears in my eyes as I witnessed this loving exchange between two third grade children. This young boy of nine years old offered to my daughter the gift of acceptance and love.  In one simple gesture, Jared taught both of us what it means to truly love your neighbor.
It would be easy to think that the families and children of Family Promise would be the only ones that are the receivers of God’s love through the hands and feet of the volunteers serving them; however, I have found through my involvement with these families that it is more likely that I am the one receiving the greater gift.  This past opportunity to be with our guests of Family Promise left me humbled and in  in awe of God’s love and the ways in which he teaches us to love through one another. This past January, I received the gift of being witness to Jesus incarnate as a child of nine years, with no home for himself and his family to call their own gave the truest and most valuable gift that anyone will ever receive to my very own daughter, the gift of Jesus’ love.  It is a gift I know she will never forget and a gift and lesson I will always cherish.