Hays: Giving of one’s self adds to holiday healingWritten by Pam Hays | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s the season of gifts. What is on your shopping list? What do you want? What am I going to buy? Coupons? Buy one/get one? It is easy to get caught up in the commercialization of the “season.”
I remember very few presents I received during the holidays from my childhood. One I do remember was a “Tric/Trac” car racing system; that of course didn’t work as advertised. What I remember much more were the times my brother, who was 12 years older than I, would play a simple wood and metal hockey game with me for hours. We laid on our bellies and laughed and laughed. I was the baby of a large family, so a “sea of knees” was my view for many years as adults filled our home with the sounds of a joyful family. The smells of spices, chocolate and ham drifted from the kitchen to the living room. Very little about what I hold dear from my childhood memories has to do with the gifts that were carefully wrapped under a tree.
This past week I had the chance to be a part of the gifts of the season that really matter. Wounded veterans and families who have completed The Arms Forces’ LEEF family support program (Lifting up, Educating, Empowering Families of veterans with invisible wounds) hosted their service project where they gave back to the community. Some would say “They are veterans; haven’t they given enough?”
Giving of oneself is very therapeutic. The veterans and families spent 7 weeks in LEEF working hard, bonding, and sharing from a deep part of their souls to make necessary changes in their lives. A service project is built into the program because we believe “The family that serves together, stays together”. They chose to host a Candyland Christmas Party for the children and their families of the Anne Grady Prescribed Pediatric Center. The night was filled with a delicious buffet, a gorgeous cake, festive décor, lots of gift cards for the families, caroling, cookie decorating and crafts.
But what I saw that night had nothing to do with what was bought with money. I saw a wounded veteran who had once wanted to give up on life, kneel down and look into the eyes of a three year old and reach out to hold his hand. It was as if one wounded human spirit was reaching out to another. I saw other veterans with smiles on their faces that showed me brain injury and post-traumatic stress doesn’t mean a life with no purpose or no joy. I saw spouses who thought at one time their marriages were over, work together with their veterans to transform a simple gym into a Candyland Party Place. I saw volunteers for our organization with tears in their eyes watching what many times are the “forgotten veterans”, those with invisible wounds, who were bringing so much joy to what some would say are the forgotten children and families of the severely disabled. We were told by the Center’s Staff that this party brought together children’s families to socialize like never before. Some of them had never even talked with each other before this evening.
Not all therapy happens in a closed-door room in a medical facility, nor does recovery and successful reintegration after military service just come in a medicine bottle. I believe life is about sharing our hearts, giving of our gifts, taking our own adversity and not ignoring it, but facing it head on and taking the lessons learned to help others. I saw all of this at The Arms Forces’ Candyland Christmas Party. You might say I saw the “Miracle on Birchwood Street”, home to the Anne Grady Center. Because wounded veterans decided to reach out and get the help they needed and attend LEEF, other lives have been positively changed. ‘Tis always the season for giving back and giving of yourself!! I am so proud of our veterans and their families. My wish for you and your family is a season filled with love and gracious giving!
Pam Hays is president and founder of The Arms Forces, www.thearms forces.org. (419) 891-2111 and Facebook.com/thearmsforces.