Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
By Cindy Clousing, Treasured Promises volunteer
What are the needs of the children who come to Treasured Promises—children who have experienced change in their families due to a divorce or death of a family member? A few years ago I sat in a coffee shop in Wheaton, discussing with a family counselor what we should include in our “mission statement” for Treasured Promises. As we discussed the difficult challenges facing the children who come to our Monday night program, we talked about what words we could use to explain the mission of Treasured Promises. Her suggestions were so simple, yet so rich in meaning:
Those words have been on my heart ever since that night in the coffee shop. As volunteers working with these children, we may often feel inadequate or unprepared for an evening with them, but this past spring, my husband, Jim—who works with a group of kindergarten boys—had the highest of honors given to him by one of the boys in his group.
Jim’s group was very small this year, with only one or two attending some weeks. It was easy for him to question whether the little guys were having a good time or whether they were getting as much out of the short lesson and discussion as they would have if they had been part of a larger group of boys. But every week Jim was there.
The last night of Treasured Promises, I was talking with the mom of Michael,* one of the two little boys who were regular attenders in Jim’s group. She told me about an assignment Michael had from school. He was asked to tell about his “three most favorite people.”
His reply was, “My mom, my brother, and Mr. Jim.”
To Michael, the volunteer who was at Treasured Promises every week—ready to let him feel safe, let him know he was valued, and let him know he would be okay—was Mr. Jim. It may have been building their wooden airplanes or releasing parachute men from the third-floor stairs and watching them sail down to the floor below. Or maybe it was just the exchange of grins each week. But for most of the twenty-six weeks, Jim and Michael were together—a Treasured Promises volunteer and the young boy who needed someone to fill the gap for him.
For Jim, it was an honor to be on that special list and be a conduit of God’s love.
*Not his real name.
Over the years of volunteering in Treasured Promises, many experiences and stories are memorable and precious to me. There is one from this past year, however, that will forever be a favorite.
Josiah was a four-year-old boy in my group of preschoolers. His father had died of cancer at the age of 36. Since Treasured Promises serves families who are experiencing the challenges brought by divorce or by the death of a family member, the children come from many different situations. They also find many different ways to cope. One way we have often seen is silence. Their silence about their family situation is their protection.
Silence was safety for adorable Josiah. He never talked about his dad, which might not be too surprising, because he was only three on the sad day his dad died.
It was six months later that Josiah came to Treasured Promises with his mom and six-year-old sister. Most nights we had fun playing together, meeting Mr. Monkey (our group puppet), reading a good book, and eating a good snack.
Many of our stories talked about how special God made each of them and that He is with us all the time, no matter what.
In this particular group, the other nine children were dealing with the aftermath of divorce in their families, so we had not really talked about dying.
Christmas was approaching, and so was the end of our fall Treasured Promises session, but I was not sure how to approach the subject of remembering Josiah’s dad.
Then it happened—the night that, for me, highlighted the rich blessing of being in this ministry.
In the WBC library, I had discovered the perfect book for my little group of precious preschoolers. The book was titled Papa’s Gift, written by Kathleen Bostrom. It tells the story of the wonderful relationship of a little girl with her grandpa. Grandpa did many special things with little Claire. Year after year they made snow angels and snow sandwiches and shared peppermints.
When Claire was eight, Grandpa Clarence gave her a snow globe. When she shook it, a gentle snow would cover the little church inside the glass. That precious globe sat beside her bed, and every night she would lift it, shake it, and watch it.
That winter, Claire’s grandpa became very ill and died, leaving behind the little one who loved him so much.
The next few pages of this story represented all the stages of a small child’s grief, from denial to anger to sadness to hope. The line that captured me was this: “I may not see Grandpa with my eyes now, but I will always see him with my heart.” The little girl in the story had accepted the hope that she and Grandpa would be together again someday.
One Monday night in December, we sat on the little chairs in our circle—maybe 12 of us altogether, including our adult volunteers and the Wheaton College students who are part of our team. I read the book, and after that pulled from my bag a snow globe of mine, one with a small figure of a golden retriever.
I shook the globe and told the children the dog in my snow globe looked like my dog. But my dog had died, and this snow globe reminded me of him.
Then I shared about my own dad, who had died recently, and about some things I had liked doing with him when I was a little girl. I passed the snow globe to the college student sitting next to me, and she told of her neighbor friend who had died. One at a time, each one of our group shook our globe and remembered a time they lost someone special.
And then it was Josiah’s turn.
He shook the globe and matter-of-factly stated, “My dad died. He had cancer.”
Just so simple, but he said it. Then came his memory of a special thing he always did with his dad—making “shadow figures” in the light’s reflection on a wall. His face was glowing as he talked about that.
Just before the evening closed, Josiah came beside me and gave my sleeve a tug. I looked down and saw his happy and expectant expression.
“Cindy, could I have your snow globe?”
As the parents picked up their children from our group, I related the evening’s story to his mom. I shared the memory Josiah had of his dad and of the snow globe. Her eyes glistened with the tender tears of knowing that her little boy had indeed remembered his dad—particularly that he had his own clear memory of a special time they shared together. He owned this memory, and he could describe it.
The following week, the wrapped snow globe and a copy of the book went home with Josiah. I wanted his mom to give it to him at the right time, and perhaps they could re-read the story together.
Josiah has finished kindergarten now, but he still has the snow globe from Treasured Promises on his dresser—and the memory of his dad, who he can “see with his heart.”
Cindy Clousing, a long time Treasured Promises volunteer has always loved working with children, including the eleven years she taught in the WBC Weekday Preschool. Cindy and Jim have attended WBC for 30 years.
Through two 13-week sessions—September through December and January through April—parents attend either DivorceCare, GriefShare, or Single Parenting groups while their children participate in Treasured Promises.
If you are interested in serving with Treasured Promises or would like more information about this ministry, contact Treasured Promises Coordinator Marilyn Petersen, email@example.com, 630.876.6639.