Yesterday I loved reading about my friends' Thanksgiving celebrations on Facebook and Twitter. Some of what was shared was so vivid I almost felt as if I was invited into their homes to share the laughter, conversation and myriad of culinary favorites. Last night on the news I watched Missions and helping organizations serve dinner to those who are struggling so they could have a bit of Thanksgiving celebration. Then I wondered why no one was sharing the in-between stories of celebrations in places you might not know of. Not hospitals, missions, or nursing homes. Those we hear about. I'm talking about places like Ronald McDonald Houses.
For many years we spent most holidays in Ronald McDonald House in Norfolk, Virginia. As we tried to schedule as many surgeries and pre and post surgical appointments for my son over school breaks, usually that meant Xmas, often Thanksgiving, summer breaks and most other holidays when he would miss as little school as possible. Most of our holidays over about 17 years were shared with other families living at the House at that time.
No matter where you live and might see a Ronald McDonald House, as they're in many parts of the world, from outside you see a building that has something to do with sick kids and a place to stay. Walk through the doors and you'll see it's much more than that. The people inside, the staff, House mother, and other families become your family for the time you're there. It's a place where we gathered, talked about our challenges and fears, and shared what we learned with other parents and kids. From visit to visit, we'd continue the conversations as if we'd never been away. The moment we walked through the door it was into open arms for a giant hug and welcome.
If we were there over a holiday, no matter for what religion, we helped decorate the House. Xmas time at RMH was magical. Every square inch of the place was decorated, animated and glowing with light. Donations of food would come from all over, sometimes filling the fridges and freezers to overflowing so the families could come back from the hospital to a meal ready to be warmed. We shared family stories with the others and watched the kids play as if there was nothing wrong in their worlds. I remember all the holidays we spent there and many of the people we met, some whom I worked with over time.
I will never forget how at home they made us feel and how loved and supported we were no matter what we were going through nor will I ever forget the little munchkins who would crawl all over my lap while they played. I know they're looking down on us from some better (for them) place.
Now that Xmas is about a month away, I'll ask you to think of this....
If you can't figure out what to get someone who seems to have everything, places like Ronald McDonald Houses always has a wish list; everything from towels to food. Do as I do and for clients, make donations in their names. If you have a House in your neck of the woods, call them and see what you might buy for the House that won't break your bank but that will make a difference. Remember that there are many, just as we did, who are spending their holidays away from home, family and friends. It's not paying it forward, it's giving forward.