Saturday, March 30, 2013

You Want Me to Wash People's Feet? Say What?!?

Today, I participated in a volunteer outreach with an organization called Samaritan's Feet as a part of the NCAA Final Four festivities here in Atlanta. To commemorate the event's 75th anniversary, the organization's goal was to give out 7,500 pairs of free shoes to impoverished men, women, and children in the area. As I mentioned in my last post, volunteering is one of my passions, so I was eager to jump right in and get started...that is, until I found out what I was really going to have to do. When I arrived at the Georgia World Congress center this morning, I assumed I'd be greeting people at the door, sitting at a registration table, or walking back and forth to retrieve shoes and distribute them to the hundreds of people who were already waiting in line when I arrived. 

"All of those positions are available," said one of the volunteer coordinators in charge of assigning positions. "But what we really need are foot washers."

"Foot washers? You mean we're literally going to wash all these people's feet?" I asked the kind gentleman incredulously.

"Yes, unless they decline it. Its more of a symbolic gesture, but it allows us to look these people in the eye and give them a word of encouragement and human connection, which can mean way more than just a pair of shoes. Will you consider it?"

Hell no! My voice cried out in my head. I was down with volunteering my time to help those in need, but get down and wash the feet of perfect strangers, many of whom were homeless? No. Thank. You. 

"Sure, I'll do it." I heard the words pour out of my mouth, but I don't consciously remember saying them. Its funny how your spirit can speak up for you when you're about to miss out on an experience you  really need. 

He ushered me over to my station, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. What was I going to say to these people? And would I really be comfortable washing a complete stranger's feet?    I could feel myself growing more and more nervous. You and your damn big mouth, I silently reprimanded myself. You couldn't be satisfied at a registration table, you had to come play Jesus for a day. Welp, here goes...

The first recipient sat down at my station, and surprisingly I forgot how nervous I was. I also realized that I didn't have to search for the words to say. The conversation came naturally, as people shared with me all the various circumstances that had lead them to a program like this. I was so touched and humbled by how truly grateful they were for something as simple as a pair of shoes that I forgot all about my initial apprehension toward washing their feet. My favorites (of course) were the kids, who giggled and squirmed as I told them jokes and tickled their feet, and offered me some of the sweetest hugs I've ever had as I gave them their new shoes. 

I needed today more than all those people who received shoes. Sometimes I can get so caught up in my own ego, pride, and sense of self-importance that I forget a simple truth: that at some points in my life, I was one wrong decision away from being one of the hundreds of people in that line. That at any moment, I could lose my job, or my health, or my financial security and find myself in the same situation. That I was not too good or too pretty or too educated to humble myself and serve others. And while all those people I interacted with today may think I was doing something for them, they actually did way more for me than they even realize. Even though I was uncomfortable with the idea at first, I'm glad I pushed myself to do it anyway. It ended up being just what I needed.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Have You Fed Your Values Lately?

I read a post recently by one of my favorite bloggers, Paul C. Brunson, about the key to happiness (check it out here: "How I Cured My Emptiness"). According to him,"Happiness is driven by feeding our values." It seemed like such a simple concept, yet I had never heard it explained quite that way. For most of us, the idea of "values" is a fairly ambiguous one; we have a general idea of what it means, but it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what our values look like in our day-to-day lives. Put simply, values form the principles that guide our lives, the tangible fuel that drives us and gives us that feeling of happiness and fulfillment. Stop feeding your values, says Brunson, and "you'll feel a substantial part of life is missing."

Hmm...interesting. Reading the article made me stop and reflect. What are my values? What are those things that I need in my life to feel my happiest and most fulfilled? After much thought, I arrived at the following:

1. Spirituality: And I'm not talking about church or religion. I mean communicating with God frequently in an authentic and meaningful way. For me, that looks like starting and ending my day with prayer, meditation, and reflection (in the form of journal writing). Those things (especially meditation) remind me to approach everything I do with a spirit of gratitude, and to fully embrace every moment, rather than focusing my thoughts on the future or the past.

2. Friends & Family: Whether its trading stories with my girlfriends at happy hour, Skyping with my cousin/best friend and goddaughter, or watching a movie with my boyfriend, I need quality time with the people who are close to me on a regular basis. They let me vent, make me laugh, and constantly give me new things to think about.

3. Physical Activity: I didn't realize what a passion I had for working out and exercising until I started running a couple of years ago. Now, five-mile runs, weekly kickboxing classes, karate, Zumba, etc. have become a much-needed part of my life. Pushing myself physically has helped me develop discipline in other areas of my life, and has become my favorite way to keep my stress level to a minimum.

4. Community Service: Using my time, resources, and skills to help others has always been important to me, and being a teacher has helped me to turn this passion into a living. Recently, though, I realized how much I missed volunteering. To help me "feed this value," I joined a community service group on to stay connected with activities that would help me to help others. I can't wait to get started.

So those are my values in action. And when I look back on periods in my life when I felt like I was in a "funk" and things just didn't seem to be going my way, I realize that I had neglected some (or all) of the things on this list.

What do your values look like in action? And are they starving or fully fed? Good questions to ask the next time it feels your tank is running on empty.

Till next time...