Sunday, July 12, 2015

Birthday Party at Children's Attention Home

 For the past few years, I have tried to find a way to help others on my birthday.  I love spending the entire day doing random acts of kindness with my family.  As we approached my 40th birthday, I knew I wanted to do one BIG thing and not so random to celebrate.  I just wasn't sure what.  I prayed about it. Researched some different ideas.  And discovered a wonderful organization called Bright Blessings.

 Bright Blessings is the nonprofit I have always wanted to create once all my kids started school, but someone already did it here in the Charlotte area 3 years ago.  It is amazing!  Bright Blessings provides birthday presents, books, and parties to the 5000+ homeless children in the Charlotte area.  They also provide baskets of essentials for newborns who join families struggling with homelessness.   I asked Bright Blessings if our family could host one of the parties at an area shelter in July, and they had an opening for the same weekend as my birthday at the Children's Attention Home in York County.  It is the home of up to 40 children who have no where else to go.  It is different from other shelters, in that they are not there with their parents.  They are there alone.  Or with siblings.  They have no adults in their lives who can currently take care of them.

Our family was able to provide a birthday party for the three children who had birthdays this month and all of the other children who lived there were invited as the party guests.  Planning a party for children whose ages ranged from 2 to 18 was a little tricky.  I wanted to make sure that the party was enjoyable for all of them.  We decided on a Beach theme.  The kids helped Chad and me prepare for the party the last few weeks. The kids did a great job putting together the treat buckets for all of the guests.  We included a beach ball, sunglasses, bubbles, and shark gummies inside each bucket.

Then my mom and dad and sister and her friend came and joined us to help run the party in the home's cafeteria.  In order to respect the privacy of the children who reside there, we only have pictures of the set up, not the actual party.  We served juice, cupcakes, ice cream, and goldfish crackers. My children were able to pair up with guests younger than they were and help them at the party. All three of them were very helpful, but Ryan showed a true gift of nurturing and caring for younger friends.  It is a blessing to discover new talents in your children.  

We did sand art as one activity, because it is a project that can be simple enough for a two year old or detailed enough for a teen. And sand art is a must at a beach party!

The guests decorated foam visors.

And everyone played Bingo with seashells as the markers. We gave out large candy boxes as the prizes.

I wish I had words for how I feel about the experience.  I am still processing it, I think.  It was so much fun to prepare a birthday party for children who may not have ever had a birthday party, to try and make their day special.  To try and give them the kind of birthday party that my own children take for granted. I loved preparing and serving with my family.  I loved being with the children who lived there. I loved being surrounded by amazing volunteers and faculty who dedicate their lives to these children.

But instead of feeling uplifted and cheerful as I usually do after serving with our children, I left heartbroken.  How do children end up in a situation where they literally have no family, no family friends, who can take care of them?   I wanted to hug them all.  I wanted to tell them each how much Heavenly Father loves them and is aware of them.  Hugs are against the rules and I wasn't really sure if I could share my feelings about God, either.  I smiled, I spoke with them. And I fell in love with one little girl in particular.  She looked like she could be part of our family.  She was even 4 years old, the right age to be our last little stair step.   A sister for my daughter who prays for one every night.  My heart aches for all of the children there, but this little one, her, I wanted to bring home with us.  She did not know the rules about testifying or hugs.  She looked up at me after I opened her juice box and said, "Do you know I love Jesus? Do you know I am part of His Army? I have this thing right here that protects my heart.  (and she pointed to her chest). And I have a sword and a shield, too to keep me safe. It is real."  I found out that a local church had come this week to do Vacation Bible School for the children and had taught about the Armor of God.  I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who is very aware of each of His children.  That even in this place where children are living without their earthly parents, that they know God loves them and that He protects their hearts.  Thank you sweet little one for reminding me that it is God who protects and heals our hearts.  Please pray for these children that they will all remember that God loves them, even if they feel all alone.

As part of my 40th birthday celebration, I am also trying to collect 40 new favorite children's books to donate to Bright Blessings to help them with their amazing work.   I am over half way there.  Thank you to all my friends and family who are helping me out with this goal!

After the party, we returned home and enjoyed dinner and birthday cake together, started a puzzle, and played games.  Exactly how I wanted to spend my day with my wonderful family.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the life I am allowed to live. I am grateful to God for my amazing family and wonderful friends.  But most importantly, grateful for the knowledge that I am still a Child of God, even at 40 years old.

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