As I prepare for a happy Christmas with my family, I think of how often my drive to give gifts and make people happy (with gifts) clouds my mind from giving to those who simply cannot give back to me. Exchanging gifts is a blast and I hope I am able to give presents to my loved ones for as long as I can; however, there are so many needs and perhaps my time is an even greater gift. Volunteering to help someone else have a better Christmas, or life in general, is certainly a gift – to myself.
Have you ever participated in a service project that left you feeling more fulfilled than any gourmet meal or tree full of presents?
I Want to Give Back
I had a ton of fun during this Year of Experiences riding elephants and horses, tubing, indoor sky diving, and painting (just to name a few); and, with the holidays approaching, I wanted at least one of my final experiences for the year to involve volunteer work.
Eric and I had a somewhat unpleasant, but nonetheless necessary, conversation last week regarding how small my world seems at times. Because I work from home, I occasionally go days without spending significant time with anyone other than Eric and our dog. He suggested that the joy in my heart would significantly rise if I woke up each morning and asked, “How can I help someone else today?”
He continued by saying that some days giving to others will simply involve working on PreEngaged and helping couples prepare well for marriage. Other days, it may involve volunteer work or giving time and emotional energy to a friend or church member in need.
No one wants to look in the mirror and face the question, “Am I selfish? Have I become so concerned with my own needs that I cannot see other people’s needs? When did working from home change me this much?”
When I was working at a university, I was constantly serving students. Though exhausting at times, it was wildly fulfilling. It is time to proactively reach out and serve my husband, family, friends, church, and community.
Word to the Wise: Plan Your Project in Advance!
The good news is that, in my hometown, there are many volunteers (in no small part due to Liberty University). It is a blessing to have a school full of students who care to give back to the community. The not as good news is that it can be a challenge to find a service project – especially this close to Christmas. The Lynchburg Daily Bread (soup kitchen) is fully staffed for the remainder of the month (which is no surprise) and I am still waiting to hear from the Salvation Army who are no doubt crazy busy sorting Angel Tree gifts and helping the community in multiple ways.
In my quest to find a place to volunteer this week, I reached out to a few friends for some ideas. A former co-worker found the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank’s Facebook page and she graciously passed along the idea to me. They are so organized! I went online, created an account, and signed myself up for an open slot! It was that simple!
Since I was trying to give my time away for free, I hoped organizations would happily swing their doors wide open at a moment’s notice and accept my help (but, that just shows my lack of experience ~smile~). I should have looked into these opportunities a few weeks in advance. Even volunteer organizations have to turn away free help occasionally when they have an abundance of volunteers. (I will try to remember not to make this mistake again!) Plan ahead – even when you are giving your time!!!
Preparing to Head Downtown!
If you’ve been reading this year, you know that freaking out before trying something new is my signature move; yet, this time, it was different. I did have thoughts like, “Will they give me a job I do not know how to do? Will the other volunteers be friendly?” But, overall, I was excited to try it and honestly hoping to catch the volunteering bug for the future. Like I said before, I need to proactively focus my life towards others because I am often alone in my work. If I am going to reach out and give, I have to plan to do it and carry out the plan!
As I headed down the road looking for the building, I felt my blood pressure rise. I left my house late (as per my usual habit), so I was trying my best to find the warehouse and arrive on time. Siri and I finally arrived just in the nick of time and headed inside.
Arriving and Checking In
In my mind, I pictured a warehouse filled with volunteers, laughing and filling boxes. When I arrived, I walked up to the front desk, gave my name and said, “I am Heather Viets. I have an appointment to volunteer at 1:30p.” Her response? “Oh, nobody told me.”
Thankfully, they did not send me home, but it was clear my presence was unexpected. My wish was to be helpful and it seemed like I might just be getting in the way!
Time to Work!
The branch manager came and started showing me around the warehouse. Wow. My dad worked in a warehouse for over thirty years and I did not fully appreciate what he did until today. So many pallets, boxes, and codes! Not being a pro at noticing details, I felt extremely nervous at the thought of messing up an order; but, after a few minutes, I simply had to give myself a pep talk.
It is going to be okay. You are going to be fine. You will pick it up. Remember, you are volunteering, so if for some reason this is not a good fit for you, you can try somewhere else. Breathe, Heather. This is not something that should cause you anxiety.
Mr. Jim, the branch manager, took me up and down the aisles explaining the different categories of food and where they are stored. He showed me the breakroom (very important ~smile~). Then, he turned me over to one of their full time employees, Miss Karen, and she showed me the ropes. First, I watched her load an order onto a truck with a really cool electronic handcart. I wanted to take it for a spin myself, but thought I would wait until another time to ask. Then, I helped her hand over a smaller load to a group who was most likely supplying a pantry or small ministry.
One side of my brain was saying, “Just wait until you are asked to do something! Do not get in the way!” The other side (i.e., the Eric side ~smile~) was saying, “Be proactive. Jump in there and help.” So, I did. It was outside of my comfort zone for sure, but I stepped in, asked questions, and tried as hard as I could to be of some service to them even though I was obviously a surprise to their afternoon.
About forty-five minutes after arriving, my new friend, Miss Karen, asked if I wanted to ride with her to pick up some potatoes from Gleaning for the World. Sure! Two charity organizations in one day! I was all for that!
I pulled myself into the truck and slipped on my Sea Bands. Getting car sick during my first time in their delivery truck would have been an unbelievably humiliating experience – thus, I felt compelled to avoid it. After a few minutes of bouncing up and down, I was thankful I remembered them!
Gleaning for the World’s warehouse reminded me of the Blue Ridge Food Bank’s building, but it had everything from clothes, to food, to medical supplies and several volunteers. It was exciting to see so many people working for the benefit of people they may never meet. What a special way to spend our time. It was inspiring. If we do not do the work, who will?
The drive took up the majority of my shift, so I will call today, “Orientation.” ~smile~
Will I Do it Again?
I fully intend to! After we returned from our run to Gleaning for the World, I wrote my time down on the volunteer sheet and asked Mr. Jim which days they most needed volunteer help. “Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays” – In case anyone in the Lynchburg area wants to also lend a hand! He smiled and said, “Please come back again. Today was not typical.” I assured the receptionist I would try to give more notice next time and then left.
Even though today’s experience is not what I expected, I am thankful for it. During our drive, Miss Karen explained a lot about how the food bank works and the process in general. I have a greater respect for all the manual labor and organization it takes to keep non-profits running and how much of a blessing it is to know they are there! For every picture we see of missionaries handing toys to orphans, hundreds upon hundreds of hours were put in to making such moments possible.
You will be a better boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, fiancée, and spouse if you choose to live outwardly instead of inwardly. The more self-focused I become, the more crankiness and discontentment I experience (and Eric experiences, since he lives with me).
Even giving a little time once a month is a blessing to others and a blessing to yourself. Volunteering together is an even greater experience. After times of service, especially when we see the deep needs and despair others face, it is easier to let go of anger. Those moments wake us up to our own pettiness.
Shelia snubbed me at church last week, but this little boy is hungry and wearing rags. It does not matter if I am snubbed.
My mom gets in my business constantly and I am so tired of her constant questions, but today I saw an orphan whose only wish is for a family to love her. So, I can thank God my mom loves me enough to check on me.
My significant other hurt my feelings yesterday and I was determined to stay angry for a while, but after delivering meals to lonely shut-ins all morning, I am not angry anymore. I am just thankful to have someone to love.
The most powerful gift you can receive this season may be a paradigm shift.
What Will You Do?
Christmas is two short weeks away! That is plenty of time to plan at least one volunteering experience with your sweetie, friends, and/or family. Caroling? Taking goodie bags to a local nursing home and spending time with the residents? Dropping off toys for local charities? If you want to give your time, there is always someone who needs help.
How will you be the hands and feet of Jesus this Christmas season?
“‘For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40, ESV)