Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Becoming a "Charity Case"

Until I had my daughter, I never knew what it was truly like to be the recipient of charity. It is an emotion that is truly quite difficult to describe because you have to give so much of yourself just to accept the charity in the first place. I'm sure the victims of the recent disasters are going through these emotions at this time of year. You want to say "No thank you, give it to someone else who needs it more", but then someone convinces you that you need these things too.

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When Jenelle was first diagnosed with Epilepsy, things moved very quickly. She was in the hospital by the end of the week receiving a steroid treatment by injection, and I had to take time off work to keep her out of daycare because the steroids killed her immune system. Everything was happening so fast, we just lived on auto pilot most of the time. Some of my time off had to be taken without pay, so things were tight. We were not flat broke by any means, but it was tough.

A friend brought over some dinner one night to help us out, and unfortunately our oven was broken. hadn't been working for a few days, but didn't have time to call someone to repair it, let alone think about how to pay that bill. I couldn't even heat up the dinner because I didn't have an oven. The next day, the same friend sent a repair man to our home and paid for the repair. They also went to the grocery store and bought groceries for us. This was our first taste of charity, and it warmed my heart. The fact that they just took the initiative to do something without asking what I needed first was so overwhelming, and yet so needed because we obviously had our minds elsewhere.

The next month was November, and we started into the holidays very quickly that year. By then, we were over our shock and we were getting used to our new routine with Jenelle. She was off the steroids becaus they didn't work, but still was immune compromised so I remained at home until just before Christmas. Shortly before the holiday, we got a night off and went to a birthday party for a friend of ours. At the party was a mutual friend who was also a teacher. She had a surprise for us. She had taken it upon herself to have her 3rd grade class "adopt" our family, and in two cars she brought bags of groceries, diapers, wipes, fruit snacks, pasta, soup, cereal, grocery store gift certificates, etc.

She gave us a copy of the flier she had given her classroom families, and it told about our 10 month old child who was seizing uncontrollably, and how we'd been living in and out of the Children's Hospital the past two months. It talked of our son, and how it was hard to try to keep the home life normal during a time like this. When reading it all on paper, the emotions were overwhelming. The families were so generous, it brought us to tears. Immediately we felt we couldn't accept it - surely there were other families that could use this kind of generosity. The teacher said, "Yes, you can and will accept this. We did this for you so you won't have to think of the "little things" for a while.

It was an amazing experience. Once we got everything home, it took me hours to sort through it. I just kept looking at the food and couldn't stop crying. We decided to keep half, and give the rest to the local rescue mission. And even with taking only half; the non-perishable food lasted for 9 months or more and the diapers lasted for 5 months. It was a humbling experience, and yet so truly wonderful.

We never told anyone but our families about the wonderful gift that 3rd grade class gave us that year. We thought people might be offended because we weren't "poor enough" and we didn't want it to seem as if we were bragging, or worse, begging for more charity. We accepted the gift, and realized that in life we all should help each other from time to time. The hardest part about accepting charity is first admitting you need it.

Because our daughter is a special needs child, she still receives charity at this time of year. Last year a local Title Company gave her school backpacks filled with musical instruments and toys. Most of the contents of the backpack I used for stocking stuffers, and the rest of the toys she couldn't use I sent to "Toys for Tots." I realize organizations like to help the mentally retarded and the blind especially at this time of year. Just this week, I received an email from our local Epilepsy Alliance about some food baskets that had been donated for families like ours. This year we are blessed that we are not going to and from the hospital or emergency room, or trying to celebrate the holiday with a seizing child.

I'll say it again, the hardest thing for anyone to do is to say, "Yes, I will accept this charity gift" especially when you didn't realize you needed it. Thank you to all who go that extra mile to make sure others less fortunate in circumstances will have one less thing to think about this Holiday. We will never forget that special gift, and in return we will not forget others who may be experiencing difficulties during this holiday season. I hope you don't forget them either.