“God’s idea was to give to us and make givers out of us.” –Gregg Koskela, Generous Giving sermon from July 2015
About 17 months ago, I was given the most incredible gift in the form of a beautiful, healthy baby girl we named Elizabeth. I immediately fell madly in love with her. At first I was reluctant to let others hold her, wanting to soak in every sweet moment that I could, knowing that her time as a baby would pass all too quickly. I soon realized, however, that she brought more joy and happiness than I alone could receive. This precious gift could be shared. When I saw a request in the Need Sheet for volunteers with children, I eagerly looked into the opportunity.
Elizabeth and I have been providing “Baby Therapy” in the health center at Friendsview Retirement Community since she was eight months old. Each Monday afternoon you will find Elizabeth and her friend Simon surrounded by their adoring fans in the memory care unit. We lay out a blanket and spread toys on the floor while the residents line up their chairs around us.
When we first started going, Elizabeth sat in my lap, playing with toys and observing everyone around her with her beautiful brown eyes. Over the months the residents have watched as she started crawling, pulling herself up on their walkers, and taking those tentative steps of early walking. Now she is running around like she owns the place, collecting stuffed animals or excitedly pointing out the parakeets, showing off her sign language and first words. The babies’ antics bring smiles and laughter to everyone in the room. After “Baby Time” with the group, we pay visits to a few residents in their rooms, giving us a chance to build relationships with them one on one.
I will admit that having your baby be a community volunteer is not always easy. Sometimes when our weekly commitment comes around I grudgingly wake her up from an afternoon nap; other times I just feel the exhaustion that comes from being a mom and don’t want to make the effort. However, I believe this ministry is important, and I am glad to do it for the residents, Elizabeth, and me.
For the residents: Think about all the things you do in a week, the places you go and the people you interact with. For those in the health center, the world seems to get smaller and smaller as the physical and mental effects of aging take hold. A resident once told me, “Our whole life is this room.” To this I replied: “That’s why we bring life to you!” Even a moment with these babies seems to lift spirits and bring joy.
For Elizabeth: I see budding characteristics in Elizabeth that are encouraged by our volunteering: she is confident and outgoing, not scared of older people or new situations. The greatest thing I hope for Elizabeth, though, is that this experience helps her to grow up knowing that she is a beautiful, precious child of God, able to bring blessings to others just by being the person she is! Sometimes all it takes is showing up and letting God work through her.
For myself: I have a special place in my heart for the elderly. Many of my earliest memories are of accompanying my dad on pastoral visits to the older members of our church, who adopted me as their “Little Mary” and showered me with love. I could see how much our visits meant to them. It is a blessing that I now get to continue this ministry with my own little girl! I’ve also learned that “a joy shared is a joy doubled.” I don’t need to hoard my time with Elizabeth, because sharing her has only made my joy increase. Our visits to Friendsview give me a chance to pause and savor the small miracles of Elizabeth’s development, experiencing the excitement of her growth with a cloud of witnesses.
As a new mom, I have had to change my life in many ways. I have said “no” to a number of opportunities, wanting to focus my time and attention on my daughter. Though I want to give generously, it is easy to say that I will wait until I have enough free time and energy to do so. In his sermon, Gregg said, “Start somewhere….Look for those moments when you can generously give to someone else, where you can help someone in need.” Baby Therapy has been a blessing to me by providing an opportunity to give generously right where I am in this season of life. Through this ministry I continue to see that sometimes it is the littlest things (and people) that bring the biggest blessing.
Mary Harwood loves the outdoors, creating and sharing delicious meals from local food, and contra dancing. She is a volunteer at Chehalem Cultural Center, Tualatin Wildlife Refuge, and Friendsview. She and her husband, Corban, have attended NFC for three years.