Thursday, August 30, 2012

Teaching My Children To Be The Light

We have spent a lot of time giving our children words about their blessings.  We have tried to use words to help them understand how lucky they are- that they have a home, 2 parents who love them, food and clothing and that they have all of their needs met without hesitation.

But putting a face to what they've been imagining is a different experience.

I think Teagan had begun to imagine that someone who was poor would look a certain way- like Little Orphan  Annie or something.

I don't think Zach has formulated a specific picture in his mind.  It's more ideological for him at this point.

Our church is part of a network of churches that assists the Indianapolis Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN).  IHN has a Day Center and relies on their partnering churches of various faiths and denominations for care of the IHN families at night.  IHN is a program that assists homeless families. This is how the program works (from the website):

On Sunday afternoon, the network van arrives at the host congregation with beds and families’ personal belongings to be set up in a designated space, such as classrooms.
Guest families arrive at the host congregation Sunday evening. Families settle in and become acquainted with the volunteers and facility.  Dinner is served family style as guests and volunteers share the meal together. Families are responsible for their children and help with cleanup and chores.
After dinner, some congregations offer activities while others offer free time before turning in for bed. An overnight host volunteer(s) stays at the facility overnight and assist guests with breakfast & departure to the Day Center the following morning. Food is available for guests to make lunches to take to the Day Center.
Families leave for the Day Center at 7Am weekdays and 8AM weekends. Children go to school and parents to work. If guests are unemployed, they work with the Director to seek employment, housing and other resources designed to help them regain independence.  Guests are transported back to the hosting congregation each evening.
The following Sunday, families pack their beds and belongings and leave the facility.   They are transported to the Day Center and are picked up that afternoon by the next hosting congregation.

Our church has hosted IHN families a few times in the past year.  We have learned that our building is not best suited for the overnight piece of hosting so we partner with a church that does have the facilities and our congregation does the work- providing meals, fellowship, activities, and so on.

Our church has a regular mid-week event called Wednesday Night ConneXion.  We have dinner together and then break into small groups for Bible studies, spiritual growth groups, and so on.  When we are hosting IHN, we bring the IHN families to ConneXion for dinner and small group time.  

I have not been able to make it work to where my family has been able to be involved with IHN beyond donating things needed for the week.  The weeks have always fallen at a time when we aren't around.  

Last night, we were at church with the IHN families.

I had known about it, of course.  Part of what I knew was that some of the moms were excited to learn that we had Zumba at church that Wednesday night- they hadn't done it and were eager to try it out.  And we ended up having a blast and shared a lot of laughter!

I didn't say anything to my kids about the guests who were going to be there.  I didn't make them different or have them stand out.  My kids were aware we had guests and, as is common in our church, our guests were invited to the front of the line to get their dinners.  Everything about the evening was just a normal church night from the perspective of my kids.

As we were driving away, Teagan noticed the group standing by the van that transports them from church to church and to the Day Center.  She asked if they were a large family.

And our drive home ended up being a very serious and loving conversation about homelessness.  

My children were both very sad.

My daughter cried.

We talked about these families who are in this program and that they are fortunate to have this help.  We talked about the man I saw when I was staying downtown last weekend- as I walked to my hotel, there was a homeless man lying on the sidewalk in an alcove against a building.  I think of him and pray for him often and wonder what I can do to help him.  

And once we got home and were getting ready for bed, the conversation came around to issues we've had with Teagan being mean to other kids.  

Because there were a couple of little girls there who looked like any other kid at church, like any other kid at school.  And my daughter came to realize that you don't know someone's story.  That the reason why Mommy and Daddy are always striving to be kind to others and why we want her and Zach to be kind to others, especially when it's hard to choose kindness, is because you don't know if that little girl doesn't have her own bed to sleep in... doesn't have a Daddy at home... has a Mommy who hurts her... doesn't have enough food... you just never know.  And since we don't know someone else's story, it is always best to choose love and kindness.

My daughter learned an important lesson last night about compassion.

My son shared his heart with his family when he was able to tell us that he wanted to cry for the man I saw downtown.

It was hard to see reality hurting my kids.  But it warmed my heart that their response was compassionate and not something they just brushed off as something not connected to them.

The next step is important.  I don't want my kids to just have this one experience and move on.  A friend at church shared that someone she knows from another church has bags they make to take to homeless people.  I want to find out what is in those bags and see if it is something we can do as a family.  Make some bags and go downtown and see if we can't bring some care and compassion to a few people.  

I'm reading up on ideas of these "blessing bags" and have started a shopping list:

Cereal bars, granola bars, sandwich crackers, water, new socks, travel sized toiletries (I have a stash of hotel items!), fast food gift cards, toothbrushes, toothpaste (going to contact a couple of dentists I know for this one), combs, wet wipes, and notes that let the recipient know that they are loved and that someone is praying for them.

This Labor Day, I think my family is going to take on a labor of love and make bags and take them downtown.  I want my kids to learn and experience compassion but, more than that, I want them to put those feelings into action.  Words are powerful, feelings are forming- but action is what makes a difference.

Isaiah 58:10

New International Version (NIV)
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.

I want my children to learn to be the light.  And I want to be the light in action more than I am.

Matthew 5:14 says, "You are the light of the world- like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden."    That's from the Sermon on the Mount.  It's where you find the Beautitudes- blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the meek, etc.  It's where Jesus spoke to His disciples about being the salt of the earth, being the light, being leaders.  It's this sermon where Jesus told them to turn the other cheek and to love your neighbors as well as your enemies.

How can you be the light to someone today?  How can you be the light this weekend?  In your family?  In your community?  And even to yourself?



C. Beth said...

Geez, Liz, your blog has been so good this week! What an awesome way to really show your kids how to share God's love, and how to do it in a nonjudgmental way. Hmm, I wonder how I should make those concepts reality in our household....

KristinFilut said...

You are amazing!! Bless you for your actions and for teaching your kids this hard but important lesson!