Almost three months ago we began our journey to truly serve others. A journey in which we wanted to give our time to help others while hoping to learn, grow, and develop as individuals and as a family. We wanted to make a difference in our communities and expose our children to volunteerism. We are only a short way into our adventure and the experience thus far has been amazing. I cannot gauge what real impact we have had on others, but I can feel how I have been impacted personally. I was recently asked to share some thoughts and stories about our experiences to date. As I prepared some thoughts, it was clear that I had gained a lot of knowledge in a short time. I have learned a lot about volunteering, great non-profit organizations, and the massive amount of need in our community. I am most proud, however, of what I have learned about myself. These lessons, though personal, can be applied to many other people who I know. Maybe you are one of them. I want to take a moment to reflect on a few of them now.
Eliminate and Suppress Mental Filters– Imagine that you see a homeless man on street ravaging through a garbage can for food. What is your initial response? Is he a loser, an alcohol, or someone whom you should avoid? Is he an uneducated man who just doesn’t want to work? These may be thoughts and perceptions you might have when you confront this situation. I am ashamed to say that I once had these feelings. I can remember walking through the park with my family and purposely rerouting our path to avoid a homeless person because I was afraid that he may harm my children. I constantly looked over my shoulder after passing to ensure that he wasn’t following us. I can remember seeing lawns and homes that were not landscaped, overrun with weeds and trash, and instantly thinking that the homeowner must be a lazy person who doesn’t care. These are just a couple of examples of how my mental filters allowed me to create a perception of someone, or something, without really knowing the facts. These filters often create negativity that keep us from reaching out our hand and getting involved. Homeless people are people. Many are educated individuals who are just dealing with life struggles and cannot get ahead. The homeowner whose lawn looks terrible may be an elderly woman who battles health problems and cannot physically do the work. We will never know the true story until we eliminate and/or suppress the mental filters that lead to quick perceptions that are often false. I will always work to suppress these filters and give other people a chance.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable– I was very comfortable in my routines as a father and a husband. My life was contained inside a box and I was very comfortable in it. I have learned that I needed to get outside of my comfort zone and stretch the limit. I have to be willing to reach out to others even though the work may be difficult, the conversations tough, and the emotions unbearable. The quicker I can get comfortable being uncomfortable the easier it will be to put myself in situations in which I can help others. I think this thought also applies to life in general. Life is not always going to be easy and it will often be uncomfortable. Things will not always go as planned. If we are comfortable being in that situation then there will be nothing that we cannot overcome. We all must challenge ourselves to go the extra mile even though we know it will hurt.
Relationships are Powerful– We have met many great people along the way. So many people have expressed the importance of the relationships they have with others. As we have engrossed ourselves in the needs of the community I have learned that I, at some point, could be in the same situation as those we have helped. One life-changing event could cause me to have to rely on others for help. Reaching out to others and building sustainable relationships is very important. How well do you know your neighbors or your co-workers? Are they in need? Opening our hearts to relationships with others provides a support network that is there when we need it. Non-profit organizations rely on relationships with volunteers and donors. The men and women homeless on the streets look out for each other to ensure that everyone stays safe. A young person needs a mentor who will just spend time with them being a friend. We all rely on other people. We must remember this point as we interact with others and we must not forget just how powerful relationships can be.
We have a long way to go to complete our 52 week journey. I am so thankful to share many of these experiences with my wife and daughters. We will all grow from the lessons that we will learn. We set out to participate in 52 weeks of giving. I believe we will experience 52 weeks of receiving.