“Let me know what I can do.”
We make the offer to newly home adoptive families and families facing medical challenges or hospital stays. We all say it, and mean it, but we know they won’t take us up on. Not a matter of gratitude, help offers are always appreciated. And support is likely needed, but they likely don’t have the energy to muster up suggestions, coordinate care, or give the deeply vulnerable response, “Yes, please help us.”
Our family has known adoption and medical challenges, and our village of loved ones has gently and intentionally placed us on a mat and heaved us over their heads for carrying. From our position perched on the shoulders of others, we were taught to graciously say yes to receiving offered blessings.
Early on, a wise mentor urged, “Take me at my word. Let’s not play the polite game. You need help. I can give it. Let’s not waste time here.” So, we submitted and learned to allow others in, and are better for dropping pretense, releasing obsessive control and forfeiting the polite game. Now there is a new intimacy within our village and we all get to participate in God’s storytelling.
But how can any of us show big support in ways that don’t max out our already maxed agendas? How can we be the village that rallies for these families? First, we remind ourselves that it’s not about perfection or about impressing. It’s about loving. It’s about sending the message that you will stand shoulder to shoulder in the hard places. It’s simply about showing up.
We were loved on in a host of creative ways, and our hope is to pay that forward. May these 20 suggestions spark ideas for ways your family can “carry the mat” for others. Whether they admit it or not, there most likely is need for physical and emotional support, so let’s be the village they need.
1. Meals. They might be capable of toasting some bread and scrambling up some eggs, but the gift of a meal is as much of an emotional blessing as it is physical help. We use Take Them a Meal for online coordination. The organizer sends out a calendar of sign-up slots. Volunteers can see what others are bringing and also get emailed reminders. Food equals love, friends. Many times when my family saw friends standing in our doorway with soup and salad, our hearts were lifted. It was their presence and their hugs that mattered even more than their ciabatta bread.
Meals do not need to involve your finest, most complicated recipes. Rotisserie chicken, bagged salad and fruit is a perfect meal. Think simple, kid-friendly food. This is not about exhausting yourself. It is about blessing by doubling your spaghetti dinner or half-ing a pot of chili.
Do consider giving a hug and dropping the meal at the door. The family will invite you in, but they are tired, or they are cocooning, or they have dinner time hungry kids.
2. Group Prayer. Get your friends, your life group, or your neighbors together to pray big, bold, out loud prayers prior to an adoption or surgery. It doesn’t have to be a big event, just a circle spilling their requests before the Lord.
3. Voxer Messages. Download the Voxer app on your phone and have your friends do the same. This app was a sweet lifeline during our long, out of state hospital stays. It works like voice texting, and allows an ongoing conversation that you can listen to, or record, when you get free moments. Uninterrupted, coherent phone conversations while in the hospital, or newly home with a traumatized child, are hard, but hearing the voice of those who love you is a spirit lifter. I might have spilled my guts in marathon Voxers a time or three.
4. Care Bags.
Adoption: Show up with a bundle of small gifts that demonstrate your acknowledgement of what they face. Our adoption support ministry gives flowers, chocolate, nuts and gum.
flowers: “Adoption is beautiful.”
chocolate: “It’s sweet.”
gum and nuts: “But it will stretch you beyond your comfort zone and make you nutty.”
Hospital Bags: Fill a bag with some comfort items for weary families spending days in sterile hospital rooms. Include things like chocolate, magazines, Kind bars, chapstick, fuzzy socks, chocolate, tea, grapes, nuts, hand lotion, a journal and pen, and more chocolate.
5. Hospital Visit. Always ask first if company would be a blessing. If it’s a yes, then show up to be shoulder to shoulder in support. Consider asking if you can pick up some non-cafeteria food. When you arrive with Starbucks or Chipotle, don’t be surprised if tears flow. Try keeping the visit to under an hour, as patients get tired easily.
6. Text Personal Videos/Knock Knock Jokes. Don’t have time to visit or whip up lasagna? No fear. Pull out your phone, tap record and have your kids, or your whole family, send a fun and encouraging video message. We send videos of the kids telling goofy knock-knock jokes. In the easiest way possible, you are “present” on a hard day. It’s not about perfection, it’s about connection.
7. Gift Cards. It can’t be denied, we all love them, and they are a big blessing to a family facing medical challenges or adoption transition. Think Starbucks, Chik-Fil-A, Subway, Panera, hospital meal cards, and restaurants that deliver. ITunes cards are a fun pampering of new songs and games to entertain us. If travel is required for surgery, gas gift cards help lighten financial burden.
8. Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, or at Home Mail. Send a card. It will matter. Kid art is the best.
9. Balloon, Flower or Cookie Bouquet Delivery. Ever watch a two year old receive a balloon on a string? Yep.
10. Text or Message. It means something for someone to remember where you are and what you are facing. You might not get an immediate response, but don’t think it too small an act. Don’t wait until you have the right, profound words to share. Just send your love.
11. Prayer Blankets. We were given adult and child sized hand tied fleece blankets for hospital stays and we snuggled up under them with deep gratitude. Just buy two pieces of fleece fabric and create “no sew” blankets. These become “prayer blankets” when loved ones pray over the family as they tie pieces.
12. Send a Laugh. Jimmy Fallon might bring a smile during a hard or weary moment. Text a clip.
13. Free Online Hospital Cards. Lots of hospitals have free inner hospital mail. You can easily create your own card online and the hospital will deliver it. Surprise mail is always a win.
14. Child Entertainment. Fill a bag with nail polish, temporary tattoos, squeezable applesauce, fuzzy and fun socks, Goldfish, Color Wonder markers and books, glow sticks, Play-Doh, bubbles, matchbox cars, jumbo coloring books, or stickers. This is a sweet gesture for siblings of the newly adopted child or child having surgery.
15. Prayers, Scripture, or Card Compilation. Ask friends to each share a verse that they’ll be praying over the family and compile them in an envelope, or have those friends each type a prayer to be printed and attached together.
16. Make a Spotify Playlist. Use this fun website to create today’s version of the mix tape. Find songs, save to a playlist to fill a hospital room, or home in crisis, with songs of hope. (My playlist for medical mommas.)
17. Laundry. Give a couple days heads up that you’d love to serve by doing laundry. Sheets, socks, underwear and all.
18. Unplanned Blessing Drops. Several times post-adoption/surgery a friend showed up with warm banana bread. This act of kindness was pampering, comforting and helpful, a support trifecta.
Knock on a door with breakfast muffins, a devotional book, a bowl of cut fruit, a handful of flowers, pre-cut veggies and hummus, or cookies. It doesn’t need to be a full meal to help and bless.
While struggling through an extended LOA wait, a friend once landed on our porch with plastic bowls, ice cream and supplies for banana splits, and it was just the right light-hearted, gesture that said, “I get that this is crazy hard.”
19. Offer a Play Date or Fun Outing for Kids. Offering some fun time for kids/siblings is so helpful. Knowing your kids are getting to have fun is relief for parents’ stretched out hearts. Be specific, “Can the kids go to a movie with us on Thursday night?”
20. Grocery Shopping/Errand Running. Ask for a list in advance, or call when you are at Costco and say, “What can I pick up for you?”
21. (bonus!) Date Night Babysitting. Offer to babysit – when parents are ready to leave the kids – so they can decompress over dinner or de-stress with some big screen laughs. Be specific, “Can I babysit on Friday or Saturday night?”
There are so many creative ways to bless families facing challenges. Somehow still, I often miss it. A friend’s child receives a hard diagnosis in another state, another faces a challenging recovery, or another friend is newly home and weary, or way past the airport, but still struggling through attachment. Or, a friend is in the tortuous adoption wait and is having a hard time coping.
I get distracted. I get scared or sad for them. Or, I feel helpless. Sometimes, I’m not sure what to say, so I say nothing. I plan to come up with the perfect words, but I never do. Or, I say, “Let me know how I can help.”
I’ve missed it so many times, and I don’t want to miss it anymore.
We were made to walk through life together, the hard and the beautiful, celebrating joys and carrying burdens. If you’ve never received this type of support before, or don’t feel like you are living in a “village” that rallies for each other, let it start with you. Keep it simple, focus on connection, and reach out to a family adopting, newly home or facing medical challenges with the simple statement, “Here is how I’d like to help.”
Let’s not walk these roads alone, when our shoulders were meant to be touching.