Monday, January 27, 2014

Ministry Monday {Consideration for Families in Crisis}

"We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion- how can God's love be in that person? Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God."

I'm going to say this over and over again: when there's a family in crisis, do something. Something speaks into them that you care. Nothing communicates that you do not care at all. Even if the gift you offer is prayer, let them know you're praying for them and be diligent to ask how to pray for them better.

In the beginning of our crisis, I was hesitant to share our needs because of my pride. I wasn't quite ready to admit that I didn't have it altogether. When I finally began to trust a few people enough to communicate with them what our needs were, things begin to happen. In my prayer time, I had asked God to send help, but my pride wanted to stand in the way of His provision. I wanted to dictate who and where and when things would come. God doesn't work on my timeline or according to my rule book. Even though patience has always been a strong gift of mine, I was learning more about patience, trust and faith.

Here's the thing: some people come to you and ask what do you need, and they want you to say nothing. Other people come to ask what you need, and they truly desire for you to tell them something. I had no way of telling the difference between the two and I would often mutter out a "we're fine" and walk away still carrying my load. God doesn't want us to live that way. We are to carry one another's burdens. When God put the idea of making a list of our needs into my head it was an opportunity for me to be able to hand over something with choices. People like choices. My list of needs covered everything from prayer to financial provision. There was something for everyone. If someone asked what do you need I could pull out the list and say this is what we need and not feel the awkwardness of not knowing the resources of the other person. When gifts came to us, they were always orchestrated by God, not people. We've learned along the way that sometimes people are well meaning and do something, but that something may not be appropriate.

Above all, the gifts you give to families in crisis should be helpful, whether they be of your time, your talents or your financial abilities. When ministering to families in crisis, you want to be a blessing, not a burden. Take time to pray over and think about your gift. Your gift should always be your best gift. If writing a check to a family for $100 is no big deal for you, then it probably isn't your best gift. Do more. God gave us Jesus- the best gift ever. It required time and sacrifice. It is our example of the greatest gift ever given. God's gift to us is our model to follow.

Prayer is the utmost important gift you can give any family. It doesn't cost you anything. It allows you to be in communion with God. The benefits to the family are generally exponential. I encourage you that no matter how you decide to serve, to pray along with it. Pray while you mow their lawn, bake them a casserole or write out a check. Then, keep praying. If prayer is your ministry to them, then be faithful. Set your alarm for a specific time of day to pray for them and do it faithfully. Tell them that you are praying for them and ask them how to pray. Sometimes in the fog of a crisis the family really may not know what to say. I personally was so overwhelmed with the bigger picture of Riley's eyes, his future, job loss, financial strain, loneliness, and grief that I was at a loss as to what to say. Eventually, I began to come out of that fog and could focus on the moment. Today we need groceries. Riley has a cataract forming. Etc...

Taking in food to a family is my favorite, but families can be overwhelmed in this area. Many times the problems arise in lack of communication. Consider some things like being sure your meal is large enough, and brought on an appropriate day. "Surprise" meals should be freezer appropriate in case a meal is already on the way, they are away from home, or dinner had already been started. Also be considerate of allergies and preferences. If you're not a great cook you can always provide a take-out meal that you pick up and deliver for them. I have used this option myself during the days when I worked full time. Most restaurant menus are posted online these days. Call and ask for some preferences from the family and take it from there. Also, ask what they've ready eaten that week. The fourth night of baked spaghetti isn't as exciting as the first night.

You could organize a specific day for church members or friends to bring a freezer meal to church to stock the family's freezer. Be sure they have a freezer with room in it first. We do not own an extra freezer, but our own freezer sat empty for months when we could not afford many groceries. There were people all around us stocking up their freezers with meat and fresh vegetables and we had nothing. Think about some things that can be prepared ahead of time like spaghetti sauce, vegetable soup, taco meat and marinated chicken that could make up part of a meal. This will alleviate a burden on the family as well. 

If your church or another group is hosting a fundraiser with some type of food, consider purchasing some extra to give to the family in crisis. BBQ plates, spaghetti dinners, pizza kits, chicken fundraisers are all examples. Generally, families in crisis can not afford the expense of these purchases, but would love to be a part. We missed several church events, meals and fundraisers along the way because we could not afford a ticket. That was really difficult for me. Purchase tickets ahead of time and stick them in the mail, or get them to them in passing. 

There are some websites online now designed to set up meals for families. You can post their likes and dislikes and people can choose what nights they want to cover. Be sure to alert the family about each meal, they are generally not notified by the sites. If you sign up to take someone a meal, always, always be faithful to do it. Also, be sure you have it delivered to them in a timely manner. Families with young children and elderly folks generally eat dinner earlier in the day. 

Consider special days to take in meals like a birthday, a day full of doctor's appointments or a discharge from the hospital. Appointment days are very long and hard for us and I'm not able to prepare a hot dinner. 

Another way to take in food is to stock their pantry. One of my favorite resources now is There are some staple items in life that we all use like bathroom tissue, garbage bags, dish soap and paper towels. Walmart offers shipping to home on many items from their stores when you shop online. Orders over $50 generally gain free shipping. Fill your cart up with some essentials and then have them shipped to the family. They will love it, I kid you not. You can also just do this on your own. Pick up something and leave it at their door.

One thing I would love to suggest is to do things in private. Families are often so bogged down during a crisis that thank you notes are a burden. They are thankful, believe me, but shopping for cards and adding postage is an additional expense for them. They are possibly so involved in the crisis that they are unable to write thank you notes anyway. When you give a gift in secret, you alleviate that obligation. You can do things in secret by mailing an unsigned card, or leaving something at their back door while they're away. Take some things by your church office and ask the secretary to call and let them know there's a delivery there for them. Maybe ask your local grocery store if you could come in and shop, pay for the groceries and have the store call the person to pick them up. Make sure it will be a good time for them to come. You could also, as a group, divide up a grocery list of staples and each shop for items in your section. One-three items each between ten friends would make a huge impact on a family's budget. 

Next, think about being age appropriate and giving your best gift. Riley has often been given toys that were too young for him or needed to be thrown away because they were in such poor condition. Give your best gift. 

The next area of consideration is privacy. Many families in crisis may have a Facebook page, or blog, to keep family and friends updated on their journey. I can not tell you how many times I have been in the grocery store in our small town and heard someone on the next aisle updating a friend on my Riley with inaccurate information, or gossip, about our family. For whatever reason, at one point we had someone in the community decide that we weren't working hard enough to provide our own needs. This was a time when Barry and I were both working; Barry was working three jobs! I happened to walk into a room one day where she sat perched on the edge of her chair telling the group that we didn't need anything else and that we needed to work harder. She didn't see me come in but noticed the eyes of the others in the room grow large. Friends, according to her, I was a stay at home Mom and Barry worked one job. She didn't have the correct information. She had been too busy running around trying to prevent people from blessing us to get any facts for herself. I hadn't done anything to this person, and really didn't know her other than her name and what she was doing to us. Her gossip was spreading to some people as truth and very likely hurt some of the things God was doing in other people's hearts. That's how the devil works. There are certainly times when help is not appropriate, but it is important to have facts, and not gossip, when making those decisions.

I have also found that families need some privacy in regards to making decisions about their circumstances, especially medical decisions. 

Helping families by giving to them, praying for them or reading their blog does not give us a front row seat into the decision making process of their life. The decisions are still theirs to be made. 

Know that when you read an update from a family you are almost always receiving the highlights and very rarely the details. Be respectful in your comments and don't feel it appropriate to put your two cents in with their medical care or any other situation. What is appropriate is responding to questions like Does anyone have any experience with orthotics? or Can anyone help is locate a bed rail? etc. 

The last area of consideration I'd like to talk about is the "fun" factor. When Riley was having his first surgery on his eye our family was gifted tickets to the aquarium nearby the hospital. We would have never been able to afford those tickets on our own. Another person came forward and also offered tickets, so we were able to upgrade the original tickets into a family season pass. The pass was good for the calendar year and we were able to visit about five times during that year. It was the biggest treat for us. It gave Riley something to look forward to each time we went. It's been five years since we've visited and Riley has recently shown interest in going back. Attending the one on one dolphin encounter is on his bucket list. 

Consider doing a little research about where the family is going to be, and offer them something fun to do. While a child in the hospital may be restricted on activities, there may be siblings who are spending their days in the hospital or Ronald McDonald House that could use a treat. Also consider that inpatient children generally do receive tangible treats like maybe balloons, prizes from the prize box or gift cards. Outpatient children do not generally receive any prizes at all. In Riley's case, he has never been offered as much as a sticker for any of his treatments or surgeries by medical staff. We carry our own prize bag along for him to all appointments. It is currently empty. On our last trip, his iPad was his prize bag. I'll never be able to top that again! :)  Of course, it will always go along with us now.

Also consider sending some cheer to their home or the hospital no matter what the crisis may be or the age of the person. Riley has never received any type of balloons, flowers, etc. during his journey. He's had plenty of prizes to open and that has been a fun treat. We've sat in many drab hospital rooms with white walls that could have really used a splash of cheer.

One last thing. Often times the mailbox is the biggest source of cheer for us. Consider organizing a card shower for someone. There are still people out there who love to send cards. You can do this within your church or even through e-mail. During the early parts of our journey the mail proved to be a good friend in a difficult time. At one point, we organized a card shower for Riley as a gift for him to open after his surgery. We found an old treasure chest and placed cards in there for him from others. He opened them throughout the day after his surgery when he needed a little pick-me-up. We hung them up for him to see. It was very special for him and really made him feel loved. We did it again last Summer when he had surgery and he opened the cards before his surgery during our four hour wait for him to be taken back. It helped with his anxiety and several cards held fun treats like a gift card or novelty item. It was a blessing that we didn't really know ahead of time how valuable it would be. This is something that can be done numerous times, isn't expensive and is appreciated. Always remember siblings of the little ones too. They could always use a little encouragement.

I hope you're busy doing and serving now. I have a stack of cards to write out today and mail out tomorrow. It feels good to do something for others, I know you'll agree.

God is good, all the time!

1 comment:

  1. Good advice as always, Joy. We use Meal Train for meals and it's fabulous. Being able to see when the family wants meals and what every one else is bringing (no duplicates) is such a blessing to those planning and those receiving. I hadn't thought of some of the things you mention here. Thanks.


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