Finding Your Thing: Lessons from the Voluntold

I make my kids do a lot of things.

Most of it is for their benefit. I make them eat healthy foods, brush their teeth, hold hands in the parking lot and generally do things that will prolong their life.

Some things I do purely for myself. Why have children if you cannot ask them to shovel the drive, clear the table or take out the trash? It would just be wasted free labor if I didn’t.

There is too much work to be done in our home to have little idle hands hanging around.

In addition to domestic duties, my children have been subject to my insistence that we are a family of volunteers. They have passed out flyers for my roller derby league*, “worked” in a Habitat for Humanity home and placed stamps on appeals for Nyaka.

Isaiah and Isaac being volunTOLD at Nyaka while Kinzer and Gwenny volunteer.
Isaiah and Isaac being volunTOLD at Nyaka with Kinzer and Gwenny.

My husband and I are the captains of the volunteer ship and rarely even ask if anyone wants to come along. We just place it on the calendar and make sure there are tasks safe for little hands.

As we say on the Vixens, my children are voluntold for tasks not volunteered.

I usually do explain the cause and why we are helping in the car on the way over.

Nothing dramatic.

We support mommy’s roller derby team. We believe everyone should have a home. We believe that all children deserve to be loved and protected.

They usually listen for about three seconds, ask a question or two, sulk if they’d rather be playing video games and eventually realize resistance is futile before pitching in.

It’s not always pretty. Their attention span – especially Vito’s *sigh* – does not permit the dramatic shifting of mountains.

I give my time because I am passionate about service. I believe that it is important to give of your resources but you cannot truly love something if you are not willing to invest sweat equity.

The family that sweats together, loves together?

I don’t know but it seems like if I want my children to love the world around them like I do, then they have to not only see me living by my own words but they need to participate.

Isaiah is now 9-years-old and has been subjected to this lifestyle since I could tie his warm little body onto my chest so my hands could be free. He is starting to ponder deeper questions about the world around him.

He got all googly-eyed when I mentioned liking girls the other day.

I. DIE. It was so cute!

I have always given priority to organizations that serve women and children. Next in line are issues that effect families and then the environment. I’m not huge into fighting for cures or animals. I just never have been.

We all have causes that appeal to us. We have our things. Those are mine.

But what are Isaiah’s things? Does he care about roller derby? Does he want to build homes? Does he care about orphans in Uganda?

I didn’t know because I have never asked.

So one day I asked him a question.

If you could choose one thing to volunteer for, what would it be?

He looked at me kind of funny and needed a little more information before he could answer. So I broke it down for him. Forgive me if some of these terms are not P.C. but I was talking to a child.

Would you want to serve blind people, old people, animals, the environment or….?

I took some time to talk about a few different types of organizations with different beneficiaries and gave him some time to think.

After a moment of deliberation, Isaiah said that if he could choose, he would serve animals and the environment.

Those would be his things.

I was blown away by the fact that his interests were last on my own list. My son loves nature and wants to protect it.

He did not get that from me. I mean, I’m glad for nature and glad for people who keep it together. I’m just not the girl for the job.536964_10151375560588588_911503900_n

As a Christmas gift, I signed Isaiah up to volunteer at the Capital Area Humane Society.

We both attended a short orientation where we were given the rules of how to handle the animals in the shelter.

Isaiah impressed me with his care and attention to details that keep the animals safe from harm.

When he completed his orientation, he changed into his volunteer shirt before going into the grocery store. He could hardly wait to put it on.

Isaiah is the captain of this volunteer ship. We have a set date on the calendar for us to make our monthly visit and we go more often when we have time. As soon as we walk in, Isaiah runs the show. I am only there to chaperone. We visit the animals that he wants to visit and in the order he wants to visit them.

I have learned that he gets overwhelmed if an animal is too hyper or too strong. He remembers their names and asks if they have been adopted when we return. He is incredibly gentle and uses a kind voice with all of the animals. He tries to understand what they want and acts accordingly.

We leave every animal saying,”We hope we never see you again”. Isaiah understands his role is to give comfort to the animals while they wait to be adopted by others.

Watching my son doing his thing has taught me more about who he is inside.

Isaiah volunteeringWhat an incredible gift.

Following him into those kennels has given me a new love for animals and the peace that comes from being their friend.

And this whole time I thought I was the one who was supposed to be handing out lessons. :)



PS – Click here for more information on snuggling up on some sweet dogs, cats and bunnies with your kiddos.

PSS – As I was writing this post I remembered that Isaiah kisses our dog Charlie goodnight every night and I still never guessed his thing. :)

* Shameless promotion: Come watch the Lansing Derby Vixens take on South Bend on April 20th at the Lansing Center! Tickets are just $12 in advance and kids 12 and under are FREE!


Swimming Up-stream

I don’t know what to say.  My senses have been over powered from the moment I arrived in Entebbe, Uganda.  The moment it started to sprinkle rain on the dark drive to the Mugisha home, it made the smell of dust rise up into the air and off of the surfaces all around.  I keep waking drowsy in the middle of the night warm and surrounded by netting to keep the mosquitoes away.  The city streets are so full.  There are people bursting from everywhere.  My camera cannot capture and hold enough.

My hosts keep joking that I am too ambitious and will not see everything I want to by the time I have to leave.  I laugh and agree.  I have always had this problem.  Nothing is new under the sun.

Tomorrow, I will visit another orphanage.  They are not affiliated with Nyaka but almost a year ago, in response to an appeal we sent out to our mailing list, a mother sent me a hand written note about her son.  He was a teacher at a Catholic school in Michigan.  Once the Catholic schools started to consolidate, he lost his position.  Eventually, he took a job at Kutamba School for Music.

All of this in the swirling handwriting of a proud mother.  The name of the organization is M-lisada.

Strangely, and I have to believe not at all by coincidence, his mother emailed me last week with updates about her son.  I jumped after responding.  Why had I not mentioned I would be in Kampala?

I sent her a quick…PS – I will be in Kampala in about a week.  Any chance I might pop by?  You know. While I am in the neighborhood?

She emailed me back contact information and directions.  I called him this evening.  I will visit tomorrow.  I am glad I brought extra candy.  They have about 80 children living there and they will all get a sweet from me.  I have noticed during my time driving through the city many placards for different social service organizations.  We are not alone.  We never really are.

I am dedicated to my work at The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project but as with any other struggle in this life, it always feels good to look around and see another swimming up-stream with you.  You have to believe that it is all possible.  You have to know that in all situations, someone has to be the one to stop and say that they will help nurture positive changes.  It may as well be you.

This stream can be violent.  The rapids can be crushing in their weight and very cold.  However, look.  Look at the beautiful scenery just a little farther up.  Look at this beautiful river I have found myself swimming in.

Enjoy the swim.



An Oasis

Dear God,

I have had quite a year and a half.  My life, my friends, my body and my job, they all look completely different.  The transformation did not start in a place of abundance.  It started from a deeper valley than I have ever known.

Now, I walk up the other side of the ravine.  My legs are covered in drying mud trudged through and the sun is just barely starting to warm the top of my head.  Over my shoulder is a heap of heavy baggage unable to make the journey.  A stack of broken zippered, handle broken suitcases lay useless.

I still carry some with me.  I wonder if to leave that behind it might require the need to pull it up hill with me.  The people who help me tug are new faces.  Bright faces that swiftly cry when mine does.  Hands that hold and feet that dance in my own happiness.

My family is still there.  It’s strange because although it feels like they traveled with me, I am not sure they understood why.  Like a baby tied to a mother’s back fleeing a massacre, they were just carried along.  The jostling has stopped as a peaceful place is nearly found.

This morning, I sit in a place of gratitude.  I accept the journey.  I did not love it.  I would not wish it on my worst enemy.  I accept that it is not over.  I accept this oasis and take a drink preparing for the next leg.

I sigh my thank you and sit down.

In gratitude,