Last Sunday, I and my girls helped with a worship service at a local nursing home. I read scripture, and the kids sang. I dressed my middle two girls, who are often mistaken for twins, in their poofiest spring dresses and put double pigtails in the six-year-old's long hair. Residents of nursing homes do not get to spend enough time with kids, and I understood that part of our job there was to be ministers of cuteness.
The Mitchell girls and their friends were swooningly adorable as they sang "Jesus Loves Me" for the residents.
The worship service was in a medium-sized community room, and there was no place for us to sit, so we stood in front, facing the residents the whole time. I would like to tell you that my kids behaved beautifully, standing there in front of everyone. I would like to tell you that.
Yes, that sure would be nice.
I managed not to snap at my four-year-old as she was squirming and whining and almost-shrieking. Instead, I got a glimmer of an idea. "Y'know, honey," I whispered as I bent down to her. "You can hug these people."
That was all she needed to hear. My four year old is an extravert, trapped in a family of library-lovers and solitude-seekers. But here! Here was a whole room full of strangers to be charmed.
She began making the rounds. I stayed close to make sure she did not bump anyone's oxygen tube, but she was so gentle and careful, I was unnecessary. Every waking person in that room got a hug. Most of them got a kiss. And almost every resident looked down in surprise, drew back a little at first, and then hugged back, smiling like a woman getting her first love letter.
I have often heard young-ish people insulting nursing homes, speaking as though they were warehouses for stacking the elderly. That may say more about how the young person sees the elderly than how the nursing home does. I don't automatically assume a nursing home is a bad place to be. My grandfather entered a nursing home in his nineties, and he liked it, because it offered so much more social activity than my parents' home. There was always someone to talk to and something going on. But any nursing home - good or bad (and there are bad ones out there) - suffers from the same absence of children.
Our worship service was part of our congregation's "Service Week." Service Week is like a charity sampler; the congregation is strongly encouraged to volunteer during this week at one of the many ministries our church supports. The hope is that members will find a ministry they are well-suited for, one in which they will become more regularly involved.
This has been a difficult month for our family, facing the economic realities of our life and acknowledging our need for help from others. But I am still wealthy in one precious resource.
Maybe it's time to share.