Serving, Volunteering, and Meeting My Own Needs

I’m finished with volunteering. I uttered those words about a year and a half ago to more than one friend (okay, I think it was just 2). I had devoted so many hours to planning for and leading the Cub Scout den for my younger son. I wanted more freedom in my time, in my schedule, to help and serve whenever the opportunity arose–instead of in some formal, official volunteer capacity.

bag of plastic eggs
Plastic eggs the boys and I stuffed for an Easter egg hunt/outreach at Cru headquarters in March.

Such as…when a Cru colleague who lived out of town needed help one weekend cleaning up the condo she owned and rented out in Orlando, to prep it for the next tenant. I relished watching the boys pitch in with competency and confidence as we scrubbed and vacuumed and swept that day.

Or when a friend needed help packing up her family’s home to move from Orlando to another Florida city. I spent a few hours one Saturday morning emptying closets and bedrooms and loading kitchen items into the moving van (and came home with lots of dishes she no longer wanted, which we use daily). Or when we have frequent opportunities to make a meal for a family with a new baby.

pink polka dot cup

I just wanted to be a helper of others, without any title or specific role. Hence, quitting “volunteer work.” In February 2017, I handed over the Cub Scout role to my husband, who continues leading Garfield’s den. My schedule now held more blank space, and now I could say “yes” to more. Saying “yes” to some opportunities necessarily means saying “no” to others–life can be mutually exclusive that way sometimes.

I found myself even wanting to do actual “volunteer” work once in a while, and more than the quilt tops I sew that become sleeping bags for homeless individuals. (I currently have 4 of those waiting to be hemmed and mailed.) I have a need to help meet needs, and I believe God designed me that way.

So, last November, after hearing a woman at our church discuss her service with a faith-based non-profit called Jobs Partnership, I went home, found their site, and sent a message. I wanted to explore the possibility of assisting with their programs, geared toward helping unemployed (or under-employed) people gain “soft” skills to become more marketable.

watercolors from website

I knew I wouldn’t have the availability to serve as a coach, a months-long commitment involving meeting at least weekly. But I checked lots of boxes on the online form to indicate interest in helping in other ways. Right after the new year, I spoke with Beverly, one of their coordinators. And we put me on the calendar to speak on April 24 to the Jobs Partnership participants on the topic, “Communications.”

That was last week, and I just want to say–It was so much fun! Truly, I feel a part of me comes alive when I get to do public speaking, especially if it’s rooted in the message of God’s Word. {When I wrote a letter to myself on my birthday this year, I told myself to do what makes me come alive–so I’m doing it!} We discussed speaking the truth in love, being good listeners, being slow to anger. In the presentation, I included several personal stories of successes and failures in communication in various work roles.

garden spot

Such as one particular day I arrived at the school in my hometown where I’d been substitute teaching after returning home from Romania…I didn’t have a full-time job; I was young and single, living at my parents’ home. So I grabbed hold of every subbing opportunity I could find in order to make a little money.

On this day, I’d come to sub for a teacher heading to a conference. He had requested me as a sub through another person, instead of face to face or over the phone, which is how I always got requests for sub positions. I had eagerly written this job down on my calendar. Only, when I arrived, I discovered a different sub arranging worksheets for the day with the teacher before he left for his conference. He didn’t realize I’d gotten the message, or didn’t realize I’d planned to be there. I don’t know how the wires got crossed, but they did. I stayed calm, though, disappointed as I was. I knew I could risk other jobs at this school if I acted less than professional in this situation. So I listened, showed understanding, and went home. Then I prayed and cried about it.

pinecone heart

The Jobs Partnership students stayed engaged throughout our discussion; one woman even approached me afterward to talk about editing and proofreading. I left with my cup overflowing. In a few days, I’ll serve with Jobs Partnership again–this time, working on interview practice.

Because helping meet a need meets a need in me.

 

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At-Home Haircuts, After All

Well, he did it:  Garfield acquiesced to another at-home haircut. After the last (horrendous) haircut session–filled with fears and tears–we’d discussed taking him to a salon for a professional haircut the next time around.

However, after about 6 weeks (during which time I gave Mike 2 haircuts), when I mentioned we needed to get haircuts done again, he told me he preferred to have me do it after all. Perhaps the known factor won out over the unfamiliar.

shoes hanging from wire

I promised him that I’d be extraordinarily careful about his ears and about staying patient. We prayed and then, making my voice as calm as I possibly could, we started in on the task.

And together, he and I made it work. No tears, no fuss, no muss. There’s no guarantee that next time will be smooth, but I hope one truly peaceful haircut will help set a new pattern. For us both.

calvin new hair cut
Garfield, sporting a new haircut at his first soccer practice of the season.

I tried an approach with Garfield that I’d read in a midwife’s memoir. In her book, she mentioned coaching women in labor with what she called P.E.P. Here’s what that means:  P = Progress (“Look how far we’ve come! Every snip of the scissors gets us that much closer to being finished.”) E = Encouragement (“I see how still you’re being; that really helps me get the job done.”) and P = Praise (“You’re being so cooperative! I know it’s not easy, but you are really hanging in there.”) 

Success! Giving the boys their haircuts was, no kidding, one of the highlights of last week. I’ll be considering other aspects of parenting where I can apply some P.E.P.

wilson new hair cut
Woodrow with his new haircut.

 

 

When Hospitality Gets Messy

My family and I walked into our house to find a mound of damp, sandy beach towels–our own–piled on the kitchen floor, near the laundry closet. The closet doors were open, and the ironing board took up the kitchen floor space not covered with brightly-colored dirty towels.

sweet home bouquet

We hadn’t just returned from a trip to the beach–rather, we’d just gotten home from visiting Mississippi (and attending the finals of a scholarship program with which I volunteered for many years). The family staying at our house, one we still hadn’t met at this point, had left the towels tossed on the floor–which surprised me, particularly since I’d let them know we’d be returning home that night.

I had chosen “hospitality” as my word of the year that year. I felt weak in the area of hospitality, and if you’d asked me to explain that, I’d have said I didn’t love going to the effort of having extra people over for dinner. So, for that year, I aimed to be more intentional with hospitality and to do so in ways that would stretch me.

welcome to our home sign

Months earlier, I’d read in our Cru online newsletter that a family (formerly connected to Cru) would be returning  from overseas and needed to find a place to stay for about a week. This family of 4 needed to be housed in our part of town so as to be close to a family member at a nursing home. The specific dates they needed temporary, free shelter–for 8 days, according to the online ad–coincided with the dates our family would be out of town. Brilliant. We could open our home, help meet a need, and not be too crowded in our townhouse while 4 extra people lived there.

I began corresponding with the wife, who’d submitted the ad, and later learned that my husband had met her years before, although they weren’t friends. We worked out the details:  where I’d leave a house key, pool entry key, etc. I would make sure clean sheets covered the beds as we left.

However, not long before their house stay was to begin, I wrote the mom to confirm. Finally I got word that their stay was going to be longer by 3 days, the dates would be different than first stated, and they would overlap us for some time. Surprised she didn’t ask if this would be OK, I adjusted. We set up an air mattress in our bedroom for the boys, while the 2 teen daughters slept in the boys’ room and the mom and dad took the guest room/home office.

basket with books

The dirty towels left on the floor weren’t the only reason I mumbled to my husband that this family was treating our home like a hotel. They also left a bag of trash in the hall, along with a sack of clothing, on the early morning they left. I kept the clothes for several months, wondering if they’d ask me to mail them somewhere, before finally delivering them to Goodwill. They left dirty sheets on the beds, along with a note that thanked us for letting them “crash at our pad.”

This wasn’t my first foray into letting strangers stay in our home while we were out of town. Years before, while pregnant for the first time, I read another ad in the Cru newsletter requesting short-term housing for a family visiting for a wedding. The contact person, a Cru staff woman, sought housing for this family in our neighborhood, and Mike and I planned to be gone (again for the scholarship program–this time I was judging) over that weekend.

The day before we headed out of town, the contact person came to look over the house. She told me that, instead of 2 couples and a baby (which I thought were the ones visiting our home), there was a couple, a mom with her baby, and a single man. Hmmm…How was I going to make this set-up work in our 3-bedroom townhouse that, at the time, contained only 2 beds?

black and white throw

I scrounged extra sheets and set-up our pull-out sofa, not the most comfortable option. Everything was ready as Mike and I left town. Our only requests for this group were not to wear outdoor shoes inside, not to smoke inside, and not to use the master bathroom (there were 2 other options). When we returned from the weekend, we discovered a battered box of slightly crumbly candles left as a thank-you gift–and the toilet paper roll from the master bathroom removed.

I suppose they’d run out of t.p. and, instead of going to the store down the street, they’d simply removed the roll from the bathroom they weren’t using. I’d have rather they kept the candles and sprung for a four-pack of toilet paper instead.

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to His followers about taking in strangers–and how performing this act of service is, in essence, serving Him. I wanted to serve Him. 

blue and yellow doors

I got over the dirty towels and missing toilet paper, and later we housed a mom who needed a place to stay (on her own) for 13 nights. Ellen (not her real name) spent the days with her family at home but needed a place to sleep for that time period. She was the most grateful house guest we’ve ever hosted. We’d first met Ellen when our church sponsored some families from the school where we held services. When Ellen contacted our pastor for help, it seemed natural for us to open our (not well-decorated) door to her.

And this is what I learned..Hospitality is more than entertaining people, more than hosting in a beautifully-appointed home. Hospitality is offering a welcome place of shelter–for a meal or for a week–to one who might need some nourishing. 

I hope when I meet Jesus face to face, He says, “Hey, I noticed you took in those strangers! Well-done, you. And don’t worry; I have plenty of toilet paper here.” 

 

 

 

Something New Saturday: Homemade Biscotti

For the first Valentine’s Day that Mike and I spent together, we stayed in. My roommate graciously (and without being asked) vacated our apartment, and Mike came over and cooked dinner for us. I covered the dessert:  chocolate mocha bread pudding. I even dusted each serving with powdered sugar and topped it with fresh raspberries. I myself don’t care for coffee, or foods that contain coffee flavors, but Mike loves coffee–this mocha-flavored dish was part of my gift to him.

valentine rocks

Mike had tried to make reservations for us at an Ethiopian restaurant that year–we both like to eat adventurously–but the restaurant had closed. So we opted for a night in, and we both enjoyed it.

Valentine’s Day this year also found us enjoying a night at home. Mike picked up Indian food for us–and a Thai iced tea for me–and we spent time together after the boys went to bed. Not time spent on to-do list items or catching up on emails, but intentional time spent with each other.

This year, my gift to Mike was something else baked. But instead of what I cooked for us 16 years ago, this time I created homemade biscotti (for the first time). And we both enjoyed it–the boys did, too, but I made them ask Mike for permission before they could eat one since I had made the biscotti as a treat for him.

biscotti

I used this recipe, leaving out the peppermint flavoring (substituting vanilla instead), since it’s not Christmas. These biscotti contain chocolate chips, and I dipped most of them in melted chocolate, too. I found these treats easier to make than I expected.

Garfield, who’s never met a biscotti (biscotto?) he didn’t like, mentioned that maybe we should always have homemade biscotti in our house. I think he finds something heartwarming about having baked goods in our home; I have to say I agree.

 

 

Something New Saturday: Elderberry Syrup

Over the past year or so, we’ve purchased elderberry syrup made by a central Florida mom named Julie. We’ve been so pleased with what she produces as part of her cottage business, but it’d become increasingly hard to meet up to buy her product.

So…given the fact that this year’s flu season seems especially nasty, I decided I would make a batch of elderberry syrup myself to help boost my family’s natural immunity.

elderberry syrup
Reusing a jelly jar that was a Costco purchase…

This post is not intended as medical advice–everybody needs to do her own research and make decisions best for her own family. With that said, I’m intrigued by the reputed benefits of elderberry syrup.

You might be able to find elderberries yourself at Whole Foods (although I haven’t looked there) or simply buy the syrup ready-made at a pharmacy or online. For ours, I ordered a batch of organic elderberries from Amazon (with a Prime membership, which we make extensive use of every single year), and this order provided the perfect amount for making a batch of syrup. I used the honey my parents harvest from the bees they raise at their home in Mississippi, along with ginger and cinnamon. I also threw in some turmeric (for its anti-inflammatory properties), although my children are of the opinion that I added too much turmeric. With that particular spice, a little does go a long way. Here’s the recipe I used (although I omitted the cloves because I didn’t have any). I give each of my boys about a teaspoon a day to help ward off colds and flu (the same for my husband and me).

Here’s hoping that an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure! With “plenty” as my word of the year, I want to give my family plenty of resources to battle cold and flu season.

 

2018 Goals: Where I Am Now

One of my January goals was to complete a scrapbook from our family vacation to New York City last fall. I finished it on January 30, and, although it’s certainly not the most artistic presentation, it reminds us all of a wonderful adventure.

For 2018 as a whole, I set myself a handful of goals and blogged about them here. Now that a month or so of the new year has passed, I’m taking a quick review of those goals.

good morning coffee

  1. Continuing on the journey of being faithfully frugal… We did go ahead and cut out Netflix, and our one-month no-Netflix venture will end mid-February. We’ve been totally content without it (and haven’t had cable in many years). The boys like to watch Popular Mechanics for Kids on Amazon Prime a few times per week, and Mike and I watched a movie on Hoopla together in January. Hoopla is a free service provided through our public library (and many others across the country), allowing us to check out more e-books, audio books, and even movies and TV shows than we could access through our library alone. We just haven’t missed Netflix, and it’s been freeing to go without it–financially and otherwise. The jury’s still out on whether we’ll reinstate it after our one-month fast finishes.
  2. Using my mid-day downtown for quiet time with Jesus… I have continued this practice, and it’s been one of THE most effective uses of my time. I have energy; I don’t feel rushed. My thinking is clear. I think I’ve found a real sweet spot with this habit.

joy candles

3. Write + submit, submit, submit! Good news to report on this front:  I learned in January that a brief article I wrote on generosity will be published in December in a magazine called Purpose. As well, a Christian magazine for girls (called SHINE brightly) will publish a piece I wrote in their summer 2018 issue. This feels like such a victory. Whereas these 2 works are non-fiction, I also wrote a short story for a magazine called Brio (published for girls by Christian ministry Focus on the Family) that is being, as one editor communicated to me, “shown to the other editors.” The 2 articles that will be published later this year will come with a small stipend, and I plan to add that to the money I’m acquiring for extra giving projects. Which brings me to my next goal of…

4.  Raising $300 to give to needs… Right around New Year’s, I connected with a person on Craigslist who needed to have assistance with proofreading a story he’d written. I spent about 5 hours working on the project and earned $50. Then I sold some excess hand-me-downs at 2 separate consignment stores, earning $75.50. Less than 2 months into 2018, I’ve seen over $125 of my giving goal met! With that, we’ve helped a woman from our former church with funds for her cancer treatments. We mailed restaurant gift cards to a family facing huge transition due to a medical situation. And I bought a Valentine’s wreath made by some teens raising funds for a mission trip to help rebuild in hurricane-affected areas of Puerto Rico.

kids playing

5. and 6. Continuing parenting with the trust that Christ is my source of unshakable peace and teaching with the trust that the work of my children’s growth is done by the power of God’s Spirit… Somebody said, “Attitude is everything.” Or, if nobody said that, somebody should have. When I am resting in Christ’s sufficiency, I experience more peace. I combined these 2 goals, which I listed separately on my “2018 goals” blog post in January. I read a book called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham over December and January, which has encouraged me in my parenting. I also recently finished an e-book titled The Homeschooling Housewife, by Amber Fox. It’s given me some good ideas to implement in our home, even if the title is a bit off-putting.

7. Creating more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts… Check. Woodrow loves taking pictures, and he often snaps photos of me for these posts featuring outfits I put together for little to no money (through hand-me-downs, gifts, and items occasionally picked up at secondhand stores or yard sales). Please don’t be fooled by these posts that I actually get dressed every day. On cold days–well, cold for central Florida–I sometimes stay in my sweat pants from the night before, throw on a zip-up jacket of my husband’s, and call it a day. Hmm…maybe I’ll need to work on that as a goal for 2019.

How’s your 2018 going so far?

Haircuts: To Serve or To Spend

My husband grew up having haircuts given to him for free by his mother–a hair dresser. As a wedding gift, we received a set of hair clippers. We bought a pair of hair cutting shears to round out our hair dressing supplies, and I started giving Mike his haircuts.

Well, I started trying…it took several attempts before I provided anything approximating an actual haircut. But I got there eventually (after multiple follow-up trips to Great Clips). I wanted to learn to do this–and to do it well–not only for my husband but for our budget.

After a while, Woodrow came along, then Garfield, too. And I’ve cut their hair for as long as they’ve needed to have haircuts–which was years after they were born, since they were total cue balls until about age 2. For their entire lives, they’ve had only one haircut in a salon (with coupons in 2013).

puddle jumping

Every 4 to 5 weeks, I announce haircut day, and we drag a chair outside along with an extension cord so I can plug in the clippers. After this many years, Woodrow has learned to sit still and endure the cut; for the first several years, though, there were many tears and much squirming around. Same with Garfield.

However, Garfield–now age 9–simply hasn’t arrived at the place of being able to hold still in order to persevere through the dreaded cut. Every single haircut, he cries and agonizes. I’ve always known he has sensitive skin, and the hairs falling on his neck make him extremely uncomfortable, despite the cape I wrap around him before I start cutting.

This past weekend, I gave haircuts, and the saga continued. He sobbed throughout the entire process, flinching every time I snipped with clippers or scissors. Near the end of the cut, Garfield would duck and twitch and try to dodge me–accompanied by much sobbing–even before the scissors came near him. He confessed he was afraid that he’d get cut or scratched by the scissors, which he’s told me before. In the past, I’d be a bit offended by this, thinking he didn’t trust me (but this is not the issue). Throughout the cut, I offered calm reassurance (with intermittent pauses to bite my lips and breathe deeply because I was getting MAD and the cut was taking FOREVER). But it didn’t alleviate Garfield’s concerns.

mountains with fence

Later, he told he, “It’s just my instinct!” when I asked why he felt afraid and felt the need to pull away each time I tried to make a cut. I finally–finally–clued in to the fact that, all this time, he’s been afraid. Every month, he gets anxious and tense and tells me a haircut is “torture.” And that makes sense to me, as I watch him go into fight or flight mode. A few times throughout the years, I told Garfield he could participate in the haircut I gave him, or he could get his own money to pay for a haircut at a shop–which is, let’s face it, a gigantic stick and a non-existent carrot.

But that one time he received a haircut at a salon? He sat still, watched himself in the mirror, and stayed calm. And the hairdresser had no personal engagement in the procedure–he’s not her son, so she was simply doing her job, not wondering how this ordeal might affect her relationship with Garfield.

After this weekend, Mike said to me:  Let’s just take him to a salon. It’s not worth the tension it creates for him and for me, and we won’t make him pay for it. Because the issue is not really about obedience (eventually he does sit still long enough for me to finish the cut, even if it’s twice as long as the time it takes to cut Woodrow’s hair). We’ll cover the cost and hopefully provide a much saner experience for the whole family.

beach chairs

It’s a great solution, and I credit my husband for saying aloud what we all needed to hear–permission to go a different direction. However, I’ve long been the haircut giver for my family. It’s part of the efforts I make to save our family hundreds of dollars every year. So not only is this a different direction, it’s a departure from the way I serve.

Thankfully, my identity is not “money saving mama.” It’s never been “stupendous haircut giver,” either, that’s for sure. But the work I do to serve my family truly needs to serve us, and if that work doesn’t actually serve, it’s time to reassess.

I’ll continue giving haircuts to Mike and Woodrow (unless they ask to go elsewhere) and will cut Garfield’s hair again one day if he can tolerate it. But now the better way to serve my family is by spending a little money instead of saving it this time.