I've always had a heart for this particular form of... community? Ministry? I'm not even sure what category it falls under. Just last week, I walked past my very first swap: a used-book swap I started 14 (yes, FOURTEEN) years ago at a coffee shop I was working in. The coffee shop has changed names at least a dozen times since then, but the swap has grown from one tiny little shelf unit of children's paperbacks bought by me at Half-Price Books to a huge built-in unit that the church the shop is housed in obviously uses constantly. I'm proud of it every time I see it (and the coffee there is *great*).
I know that every ministry and organization has its season, and right now this swap's season is at least in hiatus - I have faith that there will be a space for it again and it will bounce right back as fast as it grew this time - but it was surprisingly hard for me to box up all those first clothes that belonged to my babies and know that I'll be taking them to a consignment store and won't be seeing them again.
When the kids were first born, they had so many monitors and IVs, and their body temperature was being so closely monitored and adjusted, that we weren't able to dress them in real clothes for the first several days. Steven, in particular, was on a CPAP machine, which made it even harder.
The NICU had particular little gowns with snaps in just the right places and just the right easy access for all the wires they needed, and then they'd be wrapped up just so in the specifically-washed NICU-provided blankets.
When we were finally able to dress them in something we chose, it was so special - we still hadn't been able to really shop for anything since they were so early, and anything we already had was way too big, but some friends of ours brought up a box of their preemie-sized gowns from their twin boys, born not too long before.
It's a tiny thing I've never taken for granted, really - being able to dress my kids in something that shows that I care about them. Maybe it sounds shallow, but I think of those first weeks of having so many considerations around each item of clothing - does it allow access to the wires? is it adequate for what they need to help them start regulating body temperature on their own? will they be swimming in it? can Eleanor finally wear something pink? - and the relief as they grew and the wires and tubes were taken out and their temperature stabilized and each restriction went away, when I look at each of those tiny onesies and pajamas as I pack them away.
There's also the other thing. See, I've packed away these clothes before. All of these tiny things were packed up and passed on, almost as soon as they were outgrown, to our Little Man, the foster nephew we thought for a long time might be a forever nephew but ended up getting to go back to his bio family. And that's the joy of swaps - I've kept seeing those loved little outfits, over and over, on loved babies. It's a joy hearing in the hallways, "Oh, that dress! That was my daughter's favorite dress, I'm so glad your daughter loves it too."
So yes, these empty racks might seem like a strange thing to get a little teary over, but they represent so much. They'll be full again some day.
And I did grab both of the little blue safari-animal gowns. They'll make a great teddy bear.