The Volunteer

Photo: courtesy of njaj/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo: courtesy of njaj/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So, I’ve been reading Erma Bombeck’s work. Love her humor. One of my favorites is her piece on volunteers. Have you read it? She talks about a dream she had where all American volunteers become disillusioned and set sail for parts unknown. At first, she’s happy to be done with committees, casserole concoctions, saving particular items and peddling baked goods. But then, she realizes the quiet left behind in places like the hospital, the nursing home…how those in need lift their arms, but no one’s left to comfort them or offer a hand.

She ends with, “I fought in my sleep to regain a glimpse of the ship of volunteers just one more time. It was to be my last glimpse of civilization…as we were meant to be.”

This is from 1975 and still timely as ever.

It’s a good one, isn’t it? Do you have a favorite Erma story?

Drop A Meal

Take Them A MealA good friend of mine from Georgia has a rule: “Whether things are really good, or things are really bad, always bring food.”

I laughed at the time, but those few words, spoken almost flippantly, have stuck with me. My friend is a matriarch of Southern hospitality, complete with pearls and Mary Janes, but also just as comfortable in her fraying Georgia Bulldogs ball cap. She’s right though; taking meals to friends and family during the ups and downs of life is important. Food is the Grand Poobah of comforting gestures.

Have you ever received meals from friends and family during a time when cooking was just not feasible? Say after a loss? Or a surgery? I’m part of a small group that routinely cooks meals for a family with a young child with severe medical problems. (Full disclosure: except that I forgot a couple weeks ago and had to scramble to make it up to them.)

As my friend says, food is also great for happy occasions like the birth of a baby. (I have to take a moment for a personal shout out. This past Sunday, some good friends had a baby daughter. Welcome to the human race, Baby McKenna!)

So, guess what? This morning, I received an email from my Georgia friend about meals for McKenna and her new parents, with a link to a website that helps you coordinate food delivery called (appropriately): Take A Meal. Thought you all might be interested in case this is one of your ways to volunteer or give of your time (and hopefully, for the receiving party, utilize your excellent cooking skills). The site offers a place for central scheduling as well as recipe ideas if you’re coming up blank or trying to minimize the number of tuna casseroles your friend receives. It also provides email reminders, which considering my mess up a couple of weeks ago, is a great feature.

It’s obvious the people at Take A Meal have done this once or twice. They even provide a great list of logistical questions to ask the receiving party prior to food showing up at their house…all the way from available freezer space and food allergies…to secure drop-off locations and hours.

This past winter, my husband did a tour of duty overseas, so we were out of the country for a while. I came back ahead of him, and let me tell you how nice was it to find my formerly-stark fridge laden with BBQ pulled pork, Southern mac n’ cheese, salad, homemade quiche, berry fruit medley, bagels, OJ and milk. Oh…and on the counter, Girl Scout cookies and a bone for my dog. Do I have some super friends, or what?

The little things truly do make a difference. They truly do warm the heart, serving as reminders that we are not alone in this life. Others are there to support and celebrate with us.

What have been your experiences with taking/receiving meals during the good and bad times?

R-A-K It Up

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. ...

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. Title page. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Random Acts of Kindness. What better time than at Christmas to do a little surprise something for somebody? It’s a time, as Dickens said in the Christmas Carol, “…when want is keenly felt, and abundance rejoices.”

Why bother? Do it and you’ll see.

I imagine you’ll find that it’s not even necessary to stick around and see the person’s reaction. Trust me.

Slow down from the craziness of the season and pay attention to those around you. The woman who just ran over your foot with a cart and didn’t apologize may be fretting over her child who has to spend Christmas in the hospital. What about your garbage man who has to brush off the snow to even find your pile of trash? How ‘bout leaving him a note and thermos of hot chocolate? What can you do that would ease a person or bring a boost of encouragement?

It’s the small things. The unexpected. The unlooked for…that can make a big difference. Confirm that someone cares and notices them in this bustling world…that they’re not alone. If you’re a believer, also leave a note that says God loves them…in case they’ve forgotten.

Here’s a list of ideas to randomly act with kindness and make someone’s day. I take no credit for this list or the idea. I’m just passing it on. By no means is the list complete, but it should get the generous gears in your mind turning. This is a reminder for myself—as much as for you—not to get so preoccupied as to miss what’s important…what this holiday is really about.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. God bless us every one.Christmas in Germany

Down To The Wire

Why do weBe Her Freedom tend to wait? I’m asking myself this question as much as I’m asking you.

This past weekend, The A21 Campaign, which fights human trafficking, held its BE HER FREEDOM fundraising event and celebrated the opening of its first east coast office–located right here in Charleston, SC. I’m a volunteer for the organization and yet, when did I buy my tickets? Yep. The week prior. I knew I was going. I knew my plans. But my habit to register for things last-minute was not especially helpful for those trying to get a good head count. Food and such had to be ordered a lot earlier. Now, give me a task and I’m on it. But sign-ups and ticket purchases? I suddenly turn procrastinator. It’s true, being part of the volunteer core staff, it was known I was coming, but until that ticket’s bought, nothing’s absolutely certain. I think we’ve all experienced the frustration of people dropping out at the last minute.

Now, we were BEYOND blessed that BE HER FREEDOM sold out! Yay! But earlier that week, it wasn’t even close. A big percentage of the tickets were sold in the hours right up to the event. Why do we do this? Why do we make the planners sweat it out? Are we just that busy that we’re unwilling to commit until the last second or is it something else?

Anyone ever planned a wedding and wondered why it was so hard to get people to check a box and send back the RSVP that has already been stamped and addressed? I remember before my own wedding, thinking, “What do we need to do for you people? Have someone there to lick the envelope?” I swore from then on, when I got wedding invitations, I’d reply quickly. And, I do. But now, I realize I need to extend this courtesy to important fundraisers, too. They have enough stress in their lives, trying to make the world a better place.

Are you quick to sign up for things? (I applaud you, if you are.) What personal experiences have affected you enough to change YOUR habits in order to benefit others?  

Sympathy Triggers

Photo by Moonlightbulb

When the needle goes into someone’s arm or a scene in a movie is gruesome, what do you do? Do you turn away or cringe? Why?

Empathy. Sympathy.

You put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You recall what the prick of the needle feels like. Hopefully, you have never experienced anything gruesome, but still, you can imagine what it MIGHT feel like. Mental self-torture? No. I believe it’s a tool to connect us to other human beings.

In his NYT Bestselling book, How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer states that our sympathetic instinct is one of the central motivations behind altruism–truly selfless acts. (To me, this instinct was put there by God, but I can’t speak for Mr. Lehrer’s view of human origins.) The interesting part is scientists have found that people, who show more activity in the sympathetic regions of the brain, often exhibit more altruistic behavior.

“…the lovely secret of altruism,” Lehrer says, “it feels good. The brain is designed so that acts of charity are pleasurable…” In studies, many people have shown more reward-related brain activity during acts of altruism than when receiving cash rewards. Hmm. Heard that somewhere before. Better to give than receive?

For those of you who volunteer for causes close to your hearts or perform random acts of kindness, that warm feeling is nothing new. BUT, I always find it interesting when science backs up something you’ve known, yet couldn’t quite explain. And it gets better…

According to a study published in the journal, Neuropsychologia, sympathy triggers not only the emotional centers of the brain, but also those associated with performing an action. We’re programmed to see and act. How about that?

What decisions have you or someone you know made in helping another that seemed irrational or inconvenient at the time, but proved a wonderful experience? What do you empathize with most?

Additional source: University Of Washington (2002, December 3). Search For Sympathy Uncovers Patterns Of Brain Activity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 5

Recognizing That Small Gift

Whenever I go through a time of discouragement, one of the worst pitfalls is letting myself feel isolated—listening to that jerky, little red guy on my shoulder whispering, “Nobody cares. They think you’re stupid for staying on this path so long.” Anyone out there experienced this, too?

BUT, instead of giving in to that and pulling back, where isolation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, I’ve taken conscious note of all the different ways my family and friends keep me forging ahead. I want to recognize and say thanks for each one’s unique ways of encouraging me. I guess you could call their support: close-to-home volunteering. It’s not owed and definitely not deserved; it’s just given…and much appreciated.

Just a few examples…

I have a friend who’s great at sending encouraging notes and cards.

Another is a big supporter of my blog, always leaving thoughtful comments.

A couple of friends (and of course, my mom) read pretty much everything I write (and quickly, too…which for any writer is incredibly appreciated).

And the impact of a simple email, phone call or drop-by to see how things are going? Big. (They’re not kidding when they say it’s the little things.)

Honestly, I could go on and on, but the point is each one is a blessed connection and I hope I can be that for them, too.

Do you know somebody right now who could use a little encouragement? What are some ways your friends and family have shown you support and encouragement that have really stuck with you? What are some ways you show your support to them?