Tag Archives: volunteering

Three lessons I learned this month about following God

So I’m up at 7 AM because I need to write. Not want to write or have something I’d like to think about writing. I neeeeeed to write. Like, if I don’t write it, it’ll cause me great pain.

It’s about the concept of following God.

As you know, I’ve volunteered for a project recently. Without going into a lot of details, I was ready to work. Ready, willing, and able to do this and this and that, because I’m very experienced at this and this and that, and I’m very good at this and this and that, and the project needed this and this and that.

Perfect match, right? So I volunteered. And talked at length about doing this and this and that and thought I was part of the team and all was good.

Except – and if you’ve ever volunteered for something and God was in any way involved – this and this and that just wasn’t happening. That and that and this other thing were going full speed ahead, and a whole lot of other that and that and this other thing were happening and successful. Except me and my this and this and that were over on the sidelines by ourselves saying, “Hey, what about us?”

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

The problem, of course, wasn’t the project. The problem was me. I was focused on what I’d volunteered to do, not on what was being done. Sure, I can do this and this and that, but maybe this and this and that isn’t needed any more. Or maybe someone else stepped up to do this and this and that and they do it just fine.

But I wanted to help. I wanted to be part of the whole thing. I offered and they said yes and then everything moved and I was left behind.

Really. Even I see how glaringly arrogant that sounds.

So lying in bed last night, feeling left out – boo hoo for poor me – it occurred to me that if I focused instead on what did happen instead of what didn’t, maybe I’d learn a lesson.

Or three.

Here goes … Continue reading

The benefits of volunteering – but you need to define volunteering

As you know, I’m working on my book idea about loving your  neighbor. Currently, I’m researching about the benefits of volunteering.

Ironically, I was also asked this week to take part in a university survey about volunteering. The questions asked me about how I’ve felt in the last week (emotions, stress, etc) and how often I volunteer.

I hate surveys like that. First of all, they didn’t define “volunteer”. I marked that I volunteer once a week, because I actually go to the animal shelter once a week. After I was done, though, I realized that I didn’t include that I’m fostering a puppy for a local rescue group. That’s a 24/7 kind of volunteering. I also am doing a little bit of networking and promoting for an abolitionist group for Freedom Sunday. That’s an hour a week.

So I suppose I volunteer more than once a week.

As for my emotions and stress level the last week, the survey didn’t ask why I checked that I might be feeling sad, blue, tired, and even aimless in my life goals.

The weather this week was wonkier than it has been all winter. Freezing cold one day, then in the 50s the next, then a foot of snow a few days later. I don’t function well in winter, but especially when we have winter, spring and fall all in the same week.

Plus, we’re trying to get Bailey into her big girl crate. Talk about stress. No amount of volunteering is going to make me feel better. Wait, caring for Bailey is technically volunteering.

The 2010 United Healthcare/Volunteer Match Do Good, Live Well study found that volunteers have less stress, feel better about themselves, and generally get a lot of positive benefits from doing good for others. And I would totally agree with that.

But a survey like the one I took this week doesn’t capture the reality of my volunteering. Saturday at the shelter, for example, was nightmarishly stressful – but I love it. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, but that one day of the week I’m there, I know that not only am I helping people adopt animals, I’m also helping the staff. It’s both draining and fulfilling.

The daily stress of caring for a foster puppy is a whole other matter. LOVE this puppy. Love, love, love her. But I also have two grown Border Collies; three dogs is just too much for me and our small house. And a puppy requires constant supervision. That kind of volunteering is actually wearing me out right now – not because I regret fostering the puppy. Quite the opposite. It’s just that a puppy is a lot of work.

Interestingly, the United Healthcare study found that giving more and doing more doesn’t necessarily mean feeling better or happier. In fact, there’s a plateau at about 100 hours a year.  It’s called “compassion fatigue” – and the effects can be severe fatigue, distancing from close relationships, and even depression.

Been there, done that. For several years, I wore myself completely down “doing for others” – because “volunteering” can also be driving people around, and listening to people unload their problems, and other non-typical volunteer activities. I ended up physically and spiritually drained. Then I learned the most wonderful word in the English language: “boundaries.” Although I don’t know that I’m actually recovered completely.

But that’s a story for another day.

When is help not help?

I’m taking a survey as I do some research for a possible book idea. The topic: when is help not help.

Part 1: In general, if someone offers to help you, but the help they give isn’t something you need, is it still help? For example, if you need A, B and C done, but they insist on doing X, Y and Z, even though you may not need them done, have they helped you? Or satisified themself?

Part 2: In Christian ministry, if someone has a physical need (ie: hunger) and we respond with a spiritual answer (ie: a Bible, a church service), have we helped?  Is there a point at which we need to first satisfy physical needs before presenting spiritual answers? And. from a Christian perspective, can you satisfy a physical need without at some point offering spiritual assistance? For example, if you’ve fed a starving person without at some point introducing them to Jesus, have you helped them?

No right answers, just curious for some feedback!

Thought for the day: Loving the unlovable

“Churches are filled to the brim with people who love the lovable. But if you want to know true love, if you want to capture the very heart of Jesus’s teaching, if you want to tap into the extraordinary – love those who do not love you back or learn to love the seemingly unlovable.”

– author Matthew Paul Turner, “Provocative Faith”

This was years ago. I had been attending a church for a very long time, and was having a discussion with some folks about inner city outreach. This church was very good at helping people from the inner city find churches in the inner city. I threw out the question, “Well, what would we do if a prostitute came to our church?” – our nice, clean upper middle class suburban church. One of the women in leadership responded, “We’d help her find a church in the city that would best suit her needs.”

I’d like to say I was surprised, but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that from church leadership. Several years before I’d volunteered for a project called Flower City Work Camp, helping with mini Vacation Bible Schools on the streets of the inner city during spring break. I did it for several years, but that first year I bonded with a few of the kids. They asked to come to church with me, so for a few Sundays my husband, daughter and I picked them up. First two kids, then three, then more wanted to come than we could fit in our car.

I asked around the church to see if anyone else would help pick up kids, and the only taker was a couple who, unable to have kids of their own, adopted … well, I don’t know how many now … but I’m sure that if they’d had room in their own already crammed van they would have not only brought the kids to church but offered them a home. But that wasn’t going to be enough. The few kids was growing to more kids and their families.

Instead of helping to find ways to get the kids to church, the pastor gently suggested that I connect them with a church in their neighborhood.

Their drug and crime ridden, very dangerous neighborhood.

I was very, very naive about organized church, having up until that point attended very small churches or a house church. So I did what was suggested, and found the kids a church in their neighborhood. The kids, understandably, felt like I’d abandoned them. Which I had. I still cry over that.

I understand why the pastor suggested a local church; the kids needed more than just Sunday School. They needed role models and breakfast programs and a safe place to go after school, all that they could see on a daily basis. At the same time, I think our church really missed an opportunity for some intense – and probably not very comfortable – spiritual growth. It was easier to hand over the kids than actually step in and help, to drive into the dangerous streets and pick the kids up every week, to bring into our fold children and families who live and think (and bathe) differently than we do. We missed the opportunity to really – really – reach out to the inner city.

I’ve never felt good about that decision, so when the conversation came up again years later, I spoke up.

“So if a prostitute came into our church we’d send her somewhere else to have her needs met?” I remember asking. The woman said yes (and everyone else agreed with her). “Can you tell me what her needs are that are different than my needs?” Blank looks.

I left that church not long after, not because I thought there was something wrong with the church. I’d loved that church for years. I left because I felt God talking to me in a way that he wasn’t talking to everyone else – or if he was, they weren’t hearing the same thing I was.

I was hearing love the unlovable. Love the dirty, unwashed, and ill-mannered until you don’t notice that they’re different than you are. Because they’re not. We all have the same needs – the need for food and shelter and water, for companionship and safety, for an eternal answer to our spiritual questions.

A prostitute walking into a suburban church has the same needs at a corporate executive sitting in the same pew. And when you start to think of people in that way, it’s much easier to love the seemingly unlovable. “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Making service your career vs. being a servant in your career (is there a difference?)

As I’m working through notes and outlines for this project about missions and volunteering, I’m coming up with a list of really interesting questions that I’d love to get your thoughts about.

One thing I’ve been pondering is the number of young adults I know who were involved in short term missions as teens and then went on to become career missionaries. I wonder if that’s because there were called to the mission field – or were they never taught that the world is their mission field, that they could  be missionaries from their desks in corporate America or from behind the store counter, etc?

What I mean is this: is there a difference between signing on with a mission agency to serve on the mission field (ie: raising funds, moving to another country, etc) and embarking on a mainstream career where you serve your coworkers and other people you encounter every day? Can you love your neighbor equally from the Sudan or from behind the counter at Starbucks?

Are they both servants? Is one more “other focused”? Or is the mindset of loving your neighbor something that happens regardless of your occupation or where you lay your head at night?  I’ve love to hear your thoughts!

Musicians On Call – using talents for a greater good

I heard an ad for this organization today and thought it sounded really interesting – and it is!

Musicians On Call is a group of artists who donate their talents to people in health care facilities, both through live performances and recorded material.

They give bedside performances, have a CD “pharmacy” of recorded music they provide at no charge to health care facilities, and even help patients record their own music.

What a great way to use a talent to help others! It’s so unique – and makes me wonder about other ways that we can use our gifts for greater good.

Loving our neighbors isn’t just about giving money. And there are many ways to serve others than in a soup kitchen or on a home construction site (two common volunteer activities).

So take a minute today and ponder this: What talents do you have that you could use to serve others?

Be the person that showed up

As I pull out old files and notes for the missions project I worked on for a while and then back burnered (is that a word?) while I focused on Christian music, I find there are lots of new and really interesting stories of people serving and volunteering that I can’t wait to investigate further

Case in point: Conor Grennan, founder of Next Generation Nepal. Conor traveled to Nepal to volunteer at an orphanage and after learning that the children weren’t necessarily orphans but victims of human trafficking, made it his mission to help reuinte the children with their parents.

In this video, one line stands out to me, when Conor is explaining “why me” and he says, “I was the person that showed up.”

That’s what serving is all about. You don’t have to have some master plan or have the details all worked out. You don’t even really need to know the problem – Grennan went to an orphanage and now works with victims of trafficking and their families, not something he’d envisioned as his life’s work. All you have to do is show up.

Grennan chronicles his experiences in his new book, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal.