As executive director of a pregnancy care center that provides free layettes and infant clothing, I was delighted when I was asked if our center would like to receive gifts of handmade crocheted and knitted baby clothing for our clients' babies. I was surprised to find, however, that this offer of clothing, so lovingly created, might be missing something—love for the mothers of the babies.
"Some of the women are wondering if the girls will take care of the clothing they plan to knit and crochet for them," a small woman with sad eyes said, as she turned toward me. I felt her searching my face for an answer. I was stunned. After working at the center for seven years, no one had ever asked me if the girls take care of the baby clothes that we give them. "Why wouldn't they?" I wondered to myself.
"They're stereotyping the girls," I said. The woman nodded in agreement. "I think they're missing the big picture," I looked at her and said. "The clothes are meant to keep the babies warm, to clothe them. That's what's important."
"Maybe you should come and speak with them about your organization," she suggested.
After agreeing to speak with the group, I began to consider how to convey the dignity of the girls and women who come to our organization with unexpected pregnancies and in need of clothing for their babies. I found it difficult to describe the girls because our clients don't conform to a profile. Girls and women seeking our services are of varying ages, ethnic backgrounds, families, educational levels, personalities, and appearances. Some of them might remind us of a daughter, a sister, or a best friend. They come to us with hopes for a happy, successful life for their babies and themselves.
Our center provides mostly new (or sometimes gently worn) infant clothing for the babies. We never accept anything that is less than what we would want our own babies to wear. When new mothers visit our office for infant clothing, they select the clothing that they want for their little one. They smile when they see the pretty dresses, darling boy outfits, or cuddly sleepers. Like most mothers, they want their baby to be nicely dressed. And every mother I have met thinks her baby is the most beautiful baby ever born.
Later that same evening, I thought about the day's conversation. After prayer and reflection, God revealed that the "big picture" I had envisioned was not simply keeping a baby warm and clothed. It was more about love.
IT IS NOT IMPORTANT
IF THEY DESERVE OUR
GIFT OR IF WE RECEIVE
ONE IN RETURN, BECAUSE
LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL.
THIS IS HOW GOD
In I Corinthians 13:1-13, we are reminded that if we speak with human tongues and are angelic, but do not have love, we are a clanging cymbal; if we have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries, or have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, we are nothing; and if we give everything we have to feed the poor and hand over our bodies to be burned, but have not love, we gain nothing.
The most profound verses begin, "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
The verses conclude with the words, "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
These words exemplify the reason we help others. We help others and people help us not because they meet our standards of worthiness or because we meet theirs, but because God is love; and when we help others, we show God's likeness to them. Every opportunity we have to help someone is given to us by God, and we should embrace and accept it as a gift from Him.
It should not matter to us if the one we are helping does not respond in the way we think appropriate. Instead, we give the gifts of ourselves and of things only because of love for the other person. It is not important if they deserve our gift or if we receive one in return, because love is unconditional. This is how God loves us.
Louise Summerhill, founder of Birthright International, the world's first pregnancy support center, spoke about unconditional love so beautifully in her book The Story of Birthright. "The essence of our service is love. We should not underestimate the power of love. We in Birthright rely on intuition, and a loving attitude, free from all judgment. Judgment vanishes with love. We do not meddle in morality, and knowing this, girls come to us without fear of being made to feel more guilty than they are... And who among us can say they are not guilty? We are all alike, forgiven sinners."
Our clients are like lovely butterflies. If a butterfly landed on the palm of our hand, we would immediately lift it up to fly and continue on its way. When girls come to us, we guide and lift them up to continue on their life journey. We never burden them with our expectations, but provide caring support. Like a butterfly, we may never see them again, but that is okay.
Louise tells us, "Love means to care and serve and be responsible for other people, so that, as soon as we see another in distress, we immediately respond."
This is all God calls us to do in service for others. God is love, and we perform works of charity in His name. We give only in love and need not look beyond. And that's the big picture.
Paula Smith is Executive Director of Birthright of Pittsburgh, Inc.