Sometimes I wonder if my family and I would have moved in with Mom and Dad to help out had we not met some wonderful friends during seminary.
During my seminary time at Meadville Lombard Theological School, our many friends graciously helped us take care of our son. In our first few days there, we accidentally parked in a tow zone, as we were not used to street parking, and our car was towed. Our new neighbors Michael & Cara took Jeffrey in, gave him dinner and got him to bed on time while we drove all over trying to find the tow lot and get our car back.
I had never experienced community like that before. Voluntary care for other people.
This week, we are in North Carolina for the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (GA) 2011. It is the annual week long conference for our denomination. Jeff and I are both involved in church life, so for us to be able to attend GA, we need someone to care for our son because he can't stay back home with anyone.
Our friends, Rev. David Pyle and his wife Sandy, lived in the apartment above ours in seminary. Since that time, they have always helped us through their friendship, advice, and care for Jeffrey. At GA Sandy spends all week with Jeffrey while Jeff and I attend GA, often from 9am to 12am each day.
Sandy helps us in this way out of the pure love of her heart. She knows what community means and that we can't raise our son on our own; sometimes we all need help. Jeffrey loves his time with Sandy, "because she is just fun," he says. They read books, play games, swim, and make things out of Duct Tape like a race car and track.
I do not think there are words to express what her care for Jeffrey means to us. It is hard to describe how transformative it is to have another person, of their own choice, help you so you can follow your call in life. So you can be happy and whole.
It is that example, of true community, which led Jeff and I to live with Mom and Dad. We could have just moved close by, but we saw how such an extreme act of caregiving can change lives for the better. People can choose to help one another in radical ways.
Jeffrey feels respected and loved when Sandy takes care of him because she does it voluntarily. It is a big deal for a child to have an adult who just likes to spend time with them, seeing their inherent worth and dignity. Too often, adults care for kids out of a sense of requirement.
One could say my family and I are living with my parents out of a sense of requirement, as often happens with children and parents. But that is not so. We chose this because we love them, and also because we learned that taking care of others spreads joy and is a great way to spend your life. We wanted to continue the gift that has been so graciously given to us by our friends.
Our American society often does not encourage us to help one another. People continually ask why my husband, who is "just an in-law" would help my parents.
Our friends have shown us that family is what you make it, it is not weird to help others, and it is not a sign of weakness to need help.
Thank you to all our friends who showed us a different way of life.
May we all find friends and family who care for us, and may we pass that gift of caring on to others.