I had always seen the trees with paper angels with names on it in malls and churches growing up, but I don’t know that I ever really thought hard about whose names were on those angels. I honestly didn’t know that they were specifically for kids whose parent or parents were in prison. But it got really personal for me the moment a church called me letting me know that Jack’s dad had signed him up for a gift through the Angel Tree Ministry. I was excited for the Christmas party that the church was having for all the families that were signed up in this program. I was looking forward to meeting others who might be in the same situation I was or even to possibly be able to meet and get to know some single mom’s who are doing this alone because of choices their child’s father made…as well as the dad’s having to raise the kids on his own too.
So, as it turned out Dan would have to work during the time the party was and so Jack and I went on our own. It was a mommy and me morning!! We got there and found a table to sit at. And there was SO many families with SO many children there. I was really wanting to meet some of them but the church’s program had already started. Now, here is where I am going to share my opinion on a few things. Please understand that I am truly grateful for this church for at least doing this for us. I just wanted to write about this because I know so many of you are in churches that might do this someday and I really just wanted to give some perspective on this experience of mine. The church decided to do excerpts from their choir’s christmas program and while that’s kinda christmasy… it really was hard to pay attention and enjoy when you have a small one on your lap who doesn’t give a rip about a fancy quartet song. They want to run and play and eat and you are sitting there feeling like you need to keep them quiet as not to be rude. Well, that got nearly impossible for the bulk of us, so I just struck up conversations with the girl next to me, who was a single mom. She was 18 and had an 18 month old. Such a rad girl!! We were able to share parenting stories and struggles together and watch each other’s kid while we went and got some snacks.
Being there alone really helped me feel what other’s were probably feeling like. Nobody was there to help with the kids, you were there because someone you love or used to love is in prison, and you couldn’t help to feel a little like a charity case. I wish I could have asked so many people there what their story was… I know mine was at the tip of my tongue were someone to ask me. I mean, the fact that it involves prison is a given so I don’t think many would be embarrassed to tell. After the LONG program of a bible story involving the woman at the well (how that related to Christmas I don’t really know… but then again, I wasn’t really able to listen well due to a squiggly 1 year old on my lap) and a group quoting of the sinner’s prayer we were all just wanting to get to the point of why we came. To receive the gifts “from” our little one’s loved ones. Then once they were delivered to us… everyone left.
I’m so glad to have something that represents Jack’s father’s love for him this christmas, I love the Angel Tree Ministry! This was this church’s second year at least of doing this and maybe they are still learning how to do things. But I couldn’t help but to experience and feel that maybe they might have missed a really valuable opportunity to really get to know and love on the families that were there that morning. The gospel was told but was it shown on a personal level? Please don’t get me wrong….. I’m glad those who were there got to hear the truth of the gospel, but like myself I wonder if there were too many distractions to really HEAR it. And my main point is that I feel like there is things that churches CAN do in order for that to have a better chance of happening.
Here are some things that I think churches should keep in mind when they organize an angel tree party:
- Have people from the church sitting at tables with the angel tree famlies. If possible have it arranged to where similar stages of life and parenting can sit together. I know the sweet gal I met just wanted to hear how parenting was going for me and to run some things by me she was experiencing. We as mom’s and I’m sure it’s even more the case when you’re a single mom just need encouragement at times that we’re doing an okay job and that our child is somewhat normal. In under an hour I made a new friend and found out about her life.. her story… and am now facebook friends with her. We’re hopefully going to get together sometime and talk about ways she can take better photos of her cutie-pie.
- A Christmas party should be fun! Not saying that a choir special isn’t fun, but I think it’s WAY more fun for the people singing than those of us having to sit there and listen to a song we don’t know while trying to keep our kids quiet. I think having a mix of Christmas music playing in the background would be great and that way the people from the church could mingle and actually MEET and get to know those sitting at those tables.
- What’s your story? it’s a simple question and one that would open up someone’s life to you in a real way and one that might allow you to be able to share how Christ can heal their hurts and calm their fears. Every one of us there has a story and I’ll bet that almost everyone there would be willing to open up to someone who showed true interest.
- It’s great that you serve some food at the party… but maybe those who came haven’t eaten that day and hey, It’s a christmas party, maybe the only one some will get to go to there, So don’t stand and hand out breakfast fruit or donuts one at a time… let them get as many as they want. Again, the servers standing there could be getting to know those at the tables or helping mom’s get plates for their kids!! Donuts are SO cheap and you’re providing an experience that we have been looking forward to. (Remember this is JUST my opinion as one going to this party…. not what I think is the ONLY way to do this.)
- It’s great to have the elderly help out with the party… but instead of having them be responsible for going around picking up all the dirty paper plates, have them be on baby duty. Same with the youth group… have them interacting with the school aged kids! If someone had come to me during that time and asked if she could hold Jack and hang out right there nearby me… I would have given him to them in an instant! I would have felt loved and probably would have been able to pay attention more and Jack would have been loved on as well.
- Don’t tell us to thank the volunteers who helped and that they didn’t get paid to serve us so we need to be thankful to them. It can come across as demeaning to us and I would think that if they were volunteers from the church they wouldn’t need the thanks of those who came because they would know it’s for Christ they are serving not for the thanks of men.
- It’s about a relationship. yes, you have lots of people in your church building that normally probably wouldn’t come to church but I think sometimes it’s tempting to try to tell the gospel story in song, testimony and in sermon because it’s what you’re used to doing at church. But I think with this group, with all those kids, with all those stories that all involve pain and struggle, with it being Christmas…. I think it’s soooooo simple and easy to just build a relationship with these single mom’s and dad’s and get to know their kids and find out where their needs are and what they are doing for Christmas…. THEN, after they have seen the love of Christ in you, they have seen your acceptance of them as a person of worth, their name is known…their story is told, I think hearing the deeper meaning of what the baby born at Christmas and would later give his life…. for THEM, for their kids, for their loved one, would really hit home and if that happens that morning at church great… but it may have to happen at your home when you invite them over for a playdate, or when you go give them a christmas basket of cookies later that week, or when you sit with them at church and have lunch with them afterwards, or over the course of a few years even as you pour your life into them. But sometimes I think we’re TOO busy and too focused on pulling off a program or a solo to get that involved with them personally.
- And probably one of the most important things… If you pick an angel off the tree and buy a present. Try to be at the time of giveaway and get to know that family. I really wanted to know who bought for Jack. If you can’t be there, include a card with your name and email address. That way if they do want to come back to church sometime they know a friend from there who has already invested in their lives!!!