How My Heart Grew Three Sizes (at least)

So far this winter hasn’t supported this fact, but Ohio winters can be brutal. It was on one of those blistering, blizzard-like days last year when I drove my kids to school early in the morning. As we do each and every morning, we passed a bus stop which in our city is a pole with a picture of a bus on it. Standing there was a woman, bundled up, with a sad-looking stroller and a bundled up baby inside. Waiting for the bus with nothing to cover them, or shelter them from the nasty elements. For me, it was heartbreaking. I always want to help people out as I drive by, by giving them a ride, but this day and age – can you safely do that? I told myself ‘no’ and kept driving.

It was then that it hit me that I was so removed from anyone less fortunate. I have a relatively new car — new enough that it doesn’t break down on me when I try to go somewhere. I usually have a full tank of gas and when I run out, I just stop at the gas station to buy more. I’ve never had to ride a bus or depend on someone else for a ride. I have a warm house to go home to. And on that day I realized — I took everything I have for granted.

Yes, I’ve donated to charities in the past. It’s so easy to give someone a check or throw money or canned food into a collection basket or a red bucket. But that still keeps me removed from the real problem. I don’t see these people that are struggling, I just have faith that my donation will help someone, somewhere.

But how can I really, truly help with a problem if I never see it face-to-face?

I was done being removed.

But where could I start? My answer showed up in our church bulletin a few weeks later. One of the local food pantries was going to open for extra hours in the afternoon because they had so many people to serve and needed more help.

I was so nervous on my first day. I carefully planned what to wear. I have to dress up for work but didn’t want to go dressed up in my fancy work clothes since I was going straight from work, so I packed jeans and tennis shoes. I will never forget watching Ellen this summer and seeing Fergie sitting there as a guest, telling all of the TV audience to give to a certain charity (I don’t remember which) — but what I do remember is that she had so much sparkling jewelry on that it was distracting. So much that I was put off by her appeal. Who goes on television dripping with expensive jewels and tells other people they should donate money? Couldn’t she donate one of those rings? Or her necklace? Don’t get me wrong – it was great that she was giving light to the topic, but being a little more humble while doing it would go a long way. I was not going to be a Fergie.

Once I got there, my fears were put to rest immediately. The ladies who were volunteering that afternoon were so nice and put me right to work — I didn’t have time to be nervous. They showed me how to help people shop for food, how many of each item each person could get, and everything I’d need to know. I felt horrible when I was helping one lady and told her it was my first day. I said “You probably know this stuff better than I do!” UGH! I didn’t mean to imply that she had been there more than once and I felt horrible that those words came out of my mouth and sounded like that’s what I meant. Luckily she was nice, smiled, and kept looking for her food. I beat myself up for a week after that one. But besides that, the first day went great and I felt so much better when I left. Not better physically, but my heart felt better. Bigger.

That was a few months ago. I’ve been back to volunteer almost every week since then (minus a few weeks when I was too sick to get there). Tuesday afternoons have since become my favorite time of the week.

We hear so much about “entitled” people from critics hiding in their homes, behind their keyboards but I’ve seen so little of that. Most of the people I’ve helped have been genuinely grateful and not only that, happy. They’re not embarrassed, they don’t let pride get in their way, and are grateful for what they do have. I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve seen grown men cry. I’ve seen the volunteers chip in for cab fair for a man who came on the bus, could barely breathe or walk, not knowing there wouldn’t be a return bus to pick him up for another two hours. I’ve held sweet babies who need food and diapers and I’ve helped people fill out their paperwork who have hands too crippled to write. Last week we had a donation of boxes and boxes of brand new children’s winter coats. Anyone who came in and had children left with not only food, but a warm coat for each of them. It does wonders for your heart.

I am no longer removed and it has made me a different person. I no longer take anything for granted. I’m not posting photos of the gifts under our tree on Facebook this year (nor will I again) because I’ve seen far too many people who have nothing to give and nothing to receive.

Don’t spend another day taking your blessings for granted. We all have them. You just need to know where to look and not take what you have for granted. And this Christmas, or even for 2015, figure out a way to be the change. I promise it will also change you — in the best way possible.