It’s one of the most challenging seasons of the Church calendar — Thanksgiving-Advent-Christmas. If you are on a calendar year for annual budget, those numbers are currently being crunched and put into place. Annual year-end donation appeals are being prepared and sent out. Appreciation of volunteers is often made known during this season as parties are held and gifts are given.
In addition to all of the behind-the scenes work, there is still the programming. This is an especially challenging and even difficult time of year for families who have a loved one with any sort of diagnosis. Even typical kids are overstimulated by the lights, sounds and sweets of the season. Add to that diagnoses such as Sensory Processing Disorder, Crohn’s Disease, Diabetes, and you have stress. Medication and treatment schedules can be off. Sleep deprivation is common. The critical input of extended family pressures people in increasing measure during these months. With relaxed or abbreviated hours, it can be tough to get in to see physicians. Is it any wonder many find this a time of dread rather than joy?
As I so often do, I come back to the question, What are YOU doing about it in your ministry? We are Christ’s ambassadors. Celebrating His incarnation is one of the most amazing meditations in our spiritual lives. How can we facilitate that for these dear families? Here are some thoughts:
- If you don’t provide respite any other time of year, DO IT NOW! These families desperately need a pressure valve in this season. Respite can be just that. Make certain that respite doesn’t contribute to getting the kids overwhelmed with more stimulating food, sounds and activities. Instead, plan on recruiting enough volunteers to let a kid sit on their lap and enjoy a Nativity reenactment or quiet nativity video. Do crafts focused more on Advent and getting our hearts ready for Baby Jesus. Slow the pace down.
- Poverty faces many of our families who spend a disproportionate amount of their funds on medical bills. Gift baskets, gift cards and collaboration with other charities can help put food on the table for celebrations and gifts under the tree that would otherwise not be there. Get an early start because it takes time to collect names, ages, sizes, needs and then subsequently coordinate how all or part of those requests might be answered.
- Be a listening ear. Clear your own calendar to the best extent you can or call in extra volunteers who might meet this need. Give a call to those you serve saying, “Hey, I was just checking on you to see how you’re surviving the holiday season.” Sometimes, just the care and concern of another can be the greatest gift and the most visible example of Jesus that anyone can receive.
- Think outside the box. Might you have volunteers help clean people’s homes during this season or assist them in wrapping presents? Could you have someone help those you minister to address their Christmas cards? One church I saw even offered a free, relaxed photo session for families to have a portrait taken. That’s a big deal when a typical photo studio may be too expensive or overstimulating! There are so many ways we can get creative with our service to the population we love.
- Help families strategize on church attendance during this holy season. Getting to church is frequently a huge piece of the stress that these families are dealing with. What might be the service with the lowest attendance so these families don’t have to deal with lack of adequate seating? Is there a special children’s celebration? If so, might that children’s celebration be a good or poor choice for that family’s child? How might special child care be provided by a competent, trained volunteer so that the rest of the family can fully worship during the Thanksgiving, Advent or Christmas services?
As you can see, there are so many different pieces to the overall puzzle of blessing those we serve in this season. Do it with purpose and wise planning. It just may be the best gift you give all year.