I re-read the writing prompt for today’s NaBloPoMo post: “Do you enjoy doing volunteer work? Is there anywhere you volunteer right now?”
My gut reactions to these questions were, “I’m not sure” and “Is there anywhere I don’t volunteer right now?” When I’m stressed, I regress. I could tell by the instinctual rolling of my eyes and my gut reaction to these questions that it was 8:18 on Labor Day morning and I was already becoming stressed by innocent writing prompts.
Volunteerism was ingrained by every social element of my childhood. Volunteerism has been encouraged by the church to which I belong for the last thirty years. I have served on professional organization or non-profit boards for the past twelve years, and I was even elected the “Service Learning Faculty of the Year” at Oklahoma State University in 2009. The elements of my volunteerism have become so numerous that when I try to tease them apart with mental tweezers, it’s as if my volunteerism timeline jumps back together into one, sticky, hypermagnatized blob.
And that blob invades my life. And my husband’s life…and my children’s.
Mick mows the yard for neighbors and family when they’re on vacation. My children volunteered for clean-up work after the recent tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma. I continue to provide therapy to at least one client weekly at free or reduced costs, and have for the past ten years. I still volunteer to provide services to low-income or vulnerable population couples at marriage enrichment retreats. I still volunteer to play the piano in our church praise band when I’m able.
“Do you enjoy doing volunteer work?”
Yes. Usually. But the enjoyment generally comes after the work commences. I wrestle with my choices to be at a certain place of responsibility until the moment I begin the work. But then my mind quits struggling with the “whether or nots”, or that particular work-of-the-day and engages with the opportunity, the people, the hope that my efforts and the efforts of those around me make a difference.
“Is there anywhere you volunteer right now?”
Yes. There are places I volunteer right now. And there will always be places I volunteer until I die. And, that sentence I just wrote was not hyperbole, it’s really true.
How can I be so certain? I know this because my family has prepared me for volunteerism, and still does, since I was born and will until they die.
Case in point: Last week my husband was mowing my parents lawn because they are on an extended vacation. So, while he was working I went over to check on my grandmother who had evidently been cooking for a while. As I walked in the door I smelled fried okra, pork chops and gravy. I also spied tomatoes, fresh zuchinni bread, and tea.
“Wow,” I thought. “She’s 92 and she’s just whipped out a full dinner in not a whole lot of time. Cripes!”
We sat at the table and talked about the past months-worth of life. After dinner, she said, “Have you seen these mats I’ve been making?”
She was walking into her living room and pointing to something lying on the floor. She picked up a square of crinkly, crocheted material and explained that they were sleeping mats for the homeless population in Oklahoma City. She said “a group of us meet up at church and work on them. I’m one of the ones who crochets, so we have certain dimensions we work with…”
I watched her as she lay the mat on the floor then fussed with one edge that was pulling up a little. Then she finally asked me to help her stretch that side out so it would lay flat. I had a flashback to the particular care my dad gave to projects, regardless of who they were for, and the extreme detail my mother provided a sewing project, even if she wouldn’t see that garment again in her life.
My family were volunteers. I am a volunteer. And my hope is that my children continue to be volunteers…I know they already are.
And, I know where that volunteerism came from, and how it was fostered.
In my family of origin, we would most likely attribute it to our Christian heritage and the fact that our church families respond to community needs. This would be the case with my husband’s family as well. A large majority of the volunteer work I’ve done in my 49 years has been due to the engagement of the church to which I belong. It seems there are always opportunities for everyone, regardless of your skills or interests.
Volunteers for Jesus. The childhood vacation Bible school song played in my head. I thought about the Beatitudes, about Jesus’ call to help the poor, the hungry, the widows, and the sick. I thought about how much my church family is part of my own identity and the identity of my family.
Volunteers for Jesus. I specifically thought back to a scene where my parents talked to me about how the organist and the pianist at our church weren’t getting along very well, and even though I was twelve, they wanted me to consider playing the piano on Sundays for the workshop service.
Volunteers for Jesus. Well, yes I actually do enjoy volunteer work. And yes, there are several places I volunteer right now.
And there always will be. As sure as I am part of my family…and as sure as my family believes in Jesus.