I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between getting stuff for free and receiving, well, charity.
As you know, I love free stuff. LOVE it. Do quasi-stupid things for it, like drive across town to get a free printer with no ink, instead of picking up a cheapy printer the next time I'm at Target. Spend time taking surveys to earn credit at various websites. Time Costco visits for sample days.
In other words, I dig free stuff.
However, in the last two weeks I have found myself exceedingly uncomfortable with accepting free things due to my situation in life. Because our daughter is in the neonatal intensive care unit, we qualify for assistance from the Ronald McDonald House, among a million other sources of support at our hospital. The RMH has comfy chairs, a TV, some books, some exercise equipment, a couple of computers, some bedrooms and showers, and a ton of food. Meals are prepared for families by various groups almost every night of the week, plus there is a fully stocked pantry available for us to use at any time to make whatever we want. In addition, as a breast-milk-pumping mom, I qualify for a free meal each day from the hospital cafeteria, as well as for juice and snacks available in the NICU. I could literally not buy groceries for the next three months while Baby M is in the hospital, and we would still have a surplus of food at our fingertips.
I felt uncomfortable about this at first. I felt like I should be a giver to charities, a donator, the one behind the counter serving the food. I am shocked at how quickly my position in life shifted to recipient. I am grateful and humbled by the resources that are available to me. At first, I decided that I would not use these resources, that I would save them for the more deserving. I have since changed my position - the reality is that I am spending eight hours a day at a sick baby's bedside, sometimes watching difficult procedures. I am not yet physically capable of going to the grocery store and stocking my own shelves. When I get home from the hospital, I have no mental energy left to cook. Sometimes, it is all I can do to hold out my plate and say thank you.
Right now, the most I can do is promise myself that when our ordeal is over, I will give back. I will serve a meal. I will drop my change in the container on the McDonald's counter. In the meantime, I could not care less about a free tube of toothpaste or sample size shampoo. It's hard to imagine a day when that will matter again. Learning to accept things given for free instead of angling to get things for free has been an interesting lesson for me.