May 21, 2016

Lessons Learned At The Ronald McDonald House

We made the decision this week to officially check out of the Ronald McDonald House. The biggest reason we were staying there was for convenience and distance. Living an hour away from the hospital (even more if you take into consideration dropping off the girls with a babysitter first) makes traveling each day a nuisance. The time, miles, and gas would really start to add up. But the girls were feeling very homesick so we ultimately decided their happiness outweighs the gas.

As we packed up and cleaned our room, I couldn't help but feel sad to leave.  It's been a very humbling experience to stay there.

Growing up I often did service projects through my church youth groups and clubs in school for the Ronald McDonald House, as well as other similar organizations. I remember observing the people I was serving and feeling pity for them. Not in a self-righteous way; a real, genuine feeling of sympathy. I always left feeling very blessed for my own life.

I never thought I would be on the receiving end of those service projects and hoped I wouldn't be. 

It was a very strange experience at first to be fed dinner from a group of volunteers and get the same look of pity and concern that I'm sure I gave so many people myself. And it was especially hard for my pride to embrace the fact that I was at mercy to these volunteers for the food I was eating.

I often found myself feeling guilty for staying there. I met so many people that were from Texas, Montana, Oklahoma, even Idaho. They all seemed to be battling even greater trials such as lukemia or spina bifida. I couldn't help but think, should we even be here? We are only an hour away, not several states away.

It wasn't until staying there for a few weeks that I started to feel differently. Everyone there is so friendly with each other. And there is a strong mutual feeling of love and respect towards everyone else.

I had a mom and her young son casually start chatting with me one day. Her son was very obviously in the middle of battling cancer. He was completely bald and barely had any eyebrows or eyelashes left. But he was as cheerful as can be. When the mom noticed my badge for PCH has NICU on it, she asked if that's the reason we were there. After explaining to her why Aiden was there, she said, "You poor thing, I can't imagine having a baby in the NICU! That must be so hard."

My children battling cancer is one of my biggest fears. And yet, here I was sitting next to a mom of a boy going through cancer, and she said couldn't imagine being in my shoes. I was baffled.

David and I had a similar experience with a Dad there. I can't remember the exact details, but he was there with his wheelchair-bound daughter that clearly had a severe mental handicap (and I don't mean that in a derogatory way), and a toddler son. They were from a few states away, and was currently separated from his wife and other son. His wife was in Texas getting a different procedure done for their son who also has a handicap. And yet, this Dad always had a smile on his face as he managed to push a wheelchair, stroller, and stack of medical equipment around the house alone.

He was friendly to everyone there, always chatting with other families. And each time he saw David and I, he made a point to ask us how our little guy was doing.

As I met countless other families I made more of a point to observe the people around me. I was in awe at the kindness and generosity everyone displayed. And they all had a general concern for the people around them. No matter what they were personally going through - and believe me, when you are staying at the Ronald McDonald House it's never something easy - they would make a point to show love and concern for the other people around them. Many times I observed families cry with other families, or cheer as a child they just met made a milestone on their medical paths.

I very quickly realized I was a lucky person to be surrounded by so many strong, kind,  genuine people. And it made me realize that I'm blessed to be in the group of people on the other side of the serving counter. I may have hoped I never would be before, but now I'm glad I am. What an honor it is to be served. And what's an even greater honor it was to meet those families.

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