SGM Visits the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity House

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The first time I spoke to the gentleman from Alpha Sigma Phi, I wondered how they would respond. I walked into the room filled with college boys, wearing ties – some rumpled, some pristine, some sleepy from activities the night before. I carried my Sufficient Grace Ministries bag filled with a Comfort Bear and Dreams of You book on my shoulder and a red flowered headband in my hair. I smiled to cover the intimidation I felt, walking into a room filled to the brim with testosterone.

They’re just “boys in your kitchen“, I tried to convince myself. They continued to file in with their boisterous boyness, lively and noisy. I swallowed the knot in my throat, wondering how on Earth it was that I would find myself in this place, about to talk a bunch of college boys about babies dying. I was certain this was the last thing they would want to hear.

Ian whispered, “Don’t be nervous, Mrs. Gerken.”

I said, “I’m always nervous, Ian. But, I’ll be fine.”

I stood up and began telling them the story of a twenty-one year old husband and wife standing over the grave of their baby girls, our story. I told about choosing life for Thomas and being carried through grief. They were quieted and humbled and moved. Some looked at me and nodded. Some looked down. This is a hard subject for most seasoned adults. But, all of them listened. When I was finished, and Ian suggested they volunteer to make Comfort Bears, they responded with a level of enthusiasm closer to that seen at a rock concert than any church service I’ve attended. In fact, I’ve never seen a church lady hoot, holler, applaud and proclaim  “Let’s do this!” when I asked for volunteers. Just sayin’. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two about willing hearts from a bunch of college frat boys.

I smiled and laughed all the way home that day, thinking how unlikely a pairing, and yet, how just like God to bring together a fraternity and a ministry for grieving parents. How just like God not to be hindered by preconceptions or prejudice or boundaries. He longs to stretch us and grow us beyond the comfortable hindrances we build for ourselves. If we knew the limitlessness of His grace and love, it would humble and shock us to the core. I will be honest, staring into the truth of the realization that “there is no can’t” with God is both exhilarating and frightening.

Yesterday, Kaye, Lynette, Peggy, and I spent the afternoon with about 20 boys from Alpha Sigma Phi at the BGSU campus, stuffing about 40 Comfort Bears, and cutting Teeny Tears diapers, hearts, and ribbon. One of the students even helped sew the bears shut after stuffing. We prayed and stuffed bears and listened to the story telling and laughed, just like when boys fill my kitchen. But, instead of my kitchen, we were stuffing Comfort Bears in the middle of a frat house.

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It was a sobering thought for the small group of young men gathered around the table as I showed them a tiny diaper, made to fit a baby that is 20-25 weeks old. I told them how much it means for parents to have something tangible, and to make as many memories as they can with their babies for the short time they have with them. The weight of that reality settled heavy on their faces, as I told them how special it is to parents that each item is made by hand.

diaper tracing

 

Another boy shared, “It’s something to think that each one of these bears will go to a grieving parent.”

These bears, and so many more. The number is staggering.

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In the baby loss community, great emphasis is placed on awareness and advocacy. Many are passionate about breaking the silence, knocking down the barriers, dispelling the loneliness, eliminating the stigma. We stand with you, and understand the passion. But, at SGM, I rarely feel compelled to take up a “picket sign”. Not that I blame those who do…nor do I disagree. But, our mission has been more to come alongside a grieving heart gently, offering grace. Any awareness that is brought into the equation happens naturally, not forced. It comes out in the walking together. Like grace, it flows easily, saying I will meet you where ever you are. It can even happen in a college fraternity. Our form of awareness-spreading focuses not on numbers or forcefulness, but on the heart of each individual.

This is my prayer warrior friend, Lynette, who helps weekly with shipping at SGM, and prays over the mothers on our list with me. She is a tiny mother of four strapping boys, and mighty in her gentleness. She also makes the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had.

sewing!

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This young man was a Comfort Bear stuffing prodigy. He showed us a key chain that he carries with him, in the shape of a tiny handprint. He volunteers often with a children’s hospital, and was struck when they told him that the tiny metal hand he now carries on the key ring was the actual size of a premature baby’s hand. He carries it with him as a reminder.

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There’s a whole lot of beauty in this life, if we’re looking. And, a whole lot we can learn from listening to one another. That is true ministry, true awareness. A heart that listens with love and grace, and hands that work willingly alongside one another.

Another one of the “boys from my kitchen”, Brett, attends the University of Cincinnati. In one of his classes, he was asked to do a persuasive speech about a non-profit organization/charity, with the objective to convince the class/professor/audience that it would be a worthy cause to support. He chose to speak about SGM, and told the story of Faith, Grace, and Thomas and what SGM does for other families. He spent the night at our house on one of the recent evenings I was called to a hospital. The next morning, after being with the family all night, I sat with Brett, Timothy, Hannah and Brett’s mom, Peggy, stuffing Comfort Bears. He felt the heavy of my weariness as I hugged him tight in my exhausted stupor, grateful for his willingness to serve and sit with us awhile. He has a heart that notices. I cannot tell you how it touched my heart when he told me about his speech to his classmates. I’m not sure if he knows just how much it meant to me that he even knew the names of Faith, Grace, and Thomas…that they mattered enough to him to remember. And, that they were spoken aloud by a college boy, in front of other college students.

Because our babies lived, a generation is being changed and inspired, one heart at a time.

 

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Comments

  1. I love this post! What a wonderful project with the Alpha Sigma Phi brothers!!!! I LOVED IT!!

    Megan B
    Teeny Tears

  2. I love this post! What a wonderful project with the Alpha Sigma Phi brothers!!!! I LOVED IT!!

    Megan B
    Teeny Tears

  3. Jennifer Ross says:

    This is a beautiful post. I felt like I was with you, stuffing bears, enjoying loads of laughter, and pressing knowledge into young men, who will be leading their own generation on the truth of bereavement, in what ways people can help, and remembering the three names that began SGM’s legacy…

    Faith.
    Grace.
    Thomas.

  4. Beautiful, wonderful, amazing story. Melted my heart today to see the “good people” in this world:)

    Hugs,
    Trisha

  5. David Howard says:

    Awesome! I was an Alpha Sig, and its awesome to see this

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Last year, Ian’s fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi Gamma Zeta Chapter at Bowling Green State University, invited the ladies of SGM to bring our Comfort Bear supplies so they could help us stuff bears for mothers with grieving hearts. We gathered in the middle of their frat house and worked. It was such a blessing. I’ll admit, my heart softened a lot that day toward the idea of a college fraternity. All that I love about grace and way our Jesus accepts us as we are, well making our bears in the middle of a frat house…I think that sounds about right. [...]

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