This post is part of the Relay for Kids in partnership with SOS Children's Villages. Each time you share this post, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 (per action) to support children worldwide affected by crisis. Scroll to the bottom to find out more.
"Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow."
I didn't know it until the words echoed through the otherwise silent church during my father's eulogy, but evidently he had taken to referring to me as "Mother Teresa." I wouldn't stop until I saved every child in need, or so he would have people believe. Although I remember only bits and pieces of the funeral, I do remember those words, spoken by my sister. I was young and in graduate school at the time. I had my whole life in front of me. And yet, it felt like my whole life was predetermined. I knew what I had to do: save the children.
Just a few months later, I came face to face with a young boy who tested my faith in my own abilities, but eventually taught me that to save the children who need saving, we need to take small steps along the way. Small steps, after all, can make a very big difference in the life of a child.
He was tall and thin with enormous brown eyes, the kind that make you want to smile and cry all at once. He was guarded and suspicious, as well he should be. A new therapist is nothing to take lightly. For the first few sessions, we sat in near silence while he drew pictures. Sometimes he shared the stories behind the drawings; other times he just folded them up and tucked them in his pocket before I could ask too many questions. Week after week I wondered if I was helping him at all. His silence spoke volumes.
One afternoon, he finally spoke up. He wanted to walk to the barn on the grounds of the residential treatment facility to see the animals. As he visited with the animals, he began to sing. And that was when it hit me: music. He needed music. Living away from his mother was lonely and quiet, and he needed an escape from the quiet.
Through music I learned that he wanted desperately to be a singer, but that everyone laughed when he said that, so he simply stopped saying it. He sang in whispers only when he was sure he was alone. I learned that he had dreams of New York and one day traveling the world. He had dreams of becoming the kind of dad who never ever leaves.
I don't know if I saved that child from anything. I don't know if he carried my support with him as he grew or if my words slowly faded away with time and age. I don't know if my whispers were audible enough to carry him through whatever obstacles he might have faced once he left residential treatment. But I do know that he taught me a very valuable lesson: Meet the children where they are and always love them anyway.
When people ask me to share the one thing that kids absolutely need from their parents, I'm always quick to respond with a discussion on the importance of unconditional love. It's true; kids need love without limits. They need the right to mess up. They need the right to take chances that meet with failure. They need the right to carve their own paths. And it is the job of the parents to love them anyway.
But they also need unconditional support along the way. They need to know that they are valued and understood, and that their parents -- the people they trust the most -- will be there to cheer them on.
Children are in crisis all over this world. Very young children face unspeakable circumstances like conflict, disease and natural disaster. They face loss, displacement and hunger. Remember the Ebola scare that made you think twice about flying? In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak left more than 16,000 children without parental care. That's a lot of children growing up without those two crucial elements of childhood: unconditional love and support.
It might feel like there's nothing we can possibly do to help children suffering around the world, but we can take small steps together. With the click of a button we can raise awareness and, in doing so, send support in the form of care, medical supplies and education. In choosing to understand the crises at play and share that information with others, we can send unconditional love and support to children in need. We can take small steps together with the hope of making a big difference.
Sometimes I feel like I do make a difference in this world, even if that difference is small. Other times, I'm not so sure. But I keep trying. I put one foot in front of the other and attempt to help one child at a time, because it takes a village raise a child, and I am a proud member of that village.
Won't you join me?
By sharing, you make a difference for kids in crisis: From March 23 until April 24, each time you 'like' or share this post via the social media icons above or comment in the section below, Johnson & Johnson will trigger a $1 donation (per social action) to SOS Children's Villages, the world's largest organization dedicated to orphaned or abandoned children, up to $30,000*. $1 provides food, shelter and medical care to a child in crisis. In addition, you can also Donate A Photo** and Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 when you upload a photo for SOS Children's Villages -- you can help raise up to $20,000 in seconds with the click of your mouse or snap of your smart phone.
Johnson & Johnson, SOS Children's Villages and The Huffington Post created the Relay for Kids to support children around the world who have been affected by poverty, conflict, disease and natural disasters. Visit www.sos-usa.org/relayforkids to learn more.
*Blogs must be shared between March 23 to April 24, via Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, reddit, Tumblr and Google+ from the Huffington Post. Each share will trigger a $1 donation up to $30,000. There are no limits on how many times you can share a post.
** via the Donate A Photo app for iOS and Android. Johnson & Johnson has curated a list of trusted causes, and you can donate a photo to one cause, once a day. Each cause will appear in the app until it reaches its goal, or the donation period ends. If the goal isn't reached, the cause will still get a minimum donation.