Parenting is tough. It’s an up-at-dawn, work-all-day, no-rest-for-the-weary kind of job. It’s the kind of work that forces your eyelids shut before your head hits the pillow at night and makes you wonder the very next day if you can really do it all again. This I know from personal experience as a mother of three.
But for families with special needs children, I can only imagine how much more demanding it is. While the range of special needs is broad, there are many children who need constant medical care or supervision, 24 hours per day. And because their needs can be complex, they cannot always be entrusted to the care of the average babysitter so that mom and dad can get out of the house, go out on a date, spend time with their other children, or just get some rest.
Introducing Friday NITE Friends.
Friday NITE Friends (Nursing In a Tender Environment) is an outreach ministry of the church we serve that began in 1992. It was started by a mother who lost a special needs child when she was only 15 months old. This family was fortunate to have good health insurance and covered home nursing care 8-24 hours per day during their daughter’s short life, but they knew that other families with special needs children were not always as fortunate. So after their daughter passed away, the mom, in partnership with the church, began Friday NITE Friends.
Friday NITE Friends offers 4 hours of qualified childcare for special needs children and their siblings on most Friday nights throughout the year. The program is capable of handling a wide range of special needs, including even the most medically fragile children, as a result of volunteer pediatric nurses who participate in the program. While the parents of these children get a much-deserved break, the children enjoy spending time with volunteers eating dinner together, playing with toys, engaging in recreational activities, and watching movies.
Last weekend, our family had the privilege of serving as volunteers for Friday NITE Friends. Given the ages of our children, this was the first hands-on mission project we have done with our entire family in tow. And I’ll admit it…I was a little nervous about how it would go.
As a result, the night before the event, we had a family discussion over dinner regarding what we were about to do. We discussed what it means to have special needs, and we talked about some of the specific needs that they might encounter at Friday NITE Friends. We also discussed what it means to be in “missions” work, and how, when we serve, we are focusing on putting others first. We explained that, while they would certainly have fun at Friday NITE Friends, we wanted them to focus first on whether the other children were having fun and to serve the needs of these children with all their hearts. We told them that if they did, they would probably have fun too! And they had a blast!
It was a special night. The children were delightful, and it was PURE JOY to watch our children interact with them. And there are simply no words to explain how it felt, as each of the parents dropped off their kids, to take their children from them and tell them to have a great evening. I teared up. I guess it’s because I am acutely aware of how much I need to take breaks from my own kids. And these parents need it so much more than that.
But the thing that struck me the most about the evening is the rich history of this ministry…born out of the painful loss of a family that wanted to use their experience to make the world a better place. And today, their legacy spans over 22 years and has touched countless lives.
It makes me wonder. How might God be working through my life experiences — the good, the bad, and the ugly — to prepare me for ministry opportunities down the road? How might I respond to my life experiences so that I can encourage, inspire, and serve others? How does God want me — specifically me — to love on his precious people?
How about you?
If you know anyone who could benefit from the ministry of Friday NITE Friends or if you would like to volunteer, I have included a link to the website below. Our kids have already asked us, “When can we can go back?”