Hearts and homes made new

You just had the MOST. AMAZING. EXPERIENCE. EVER.

And you just can’t wait to tell your friends and family about it, because you know they will want to join you next time, once they hear how AWESOME it was.

As you enthusiastically explain, they look at you as though you are crazy, that there can’t possibly be an upside to what you did.

Whoooooosh

That’s the sound of all the wind going out of your sails.

I’ve had that happen when I have shared about the weeklong Workcamps our church hosts and the work-cation we took last year in Pennsylvania.

It really annoyed me that I couldn’t do justice to the experience and wondered how I could do better this time.

I pondered this question a week ago as we officially kicked off yet another camp and welcomed The Red Shirts and Summer Staff—the adult volunteers and college students responsible for running and overseeing the camp we host—to the church for our service. Immediately after, we headed out together to greet the over 400 volunteers who were joining us for the week to work on homes in the community.

Somewhere in the midst of welcoming those hundreds of wonderfully enthusiastic youth groups to the local middle school-which would be their home for the week-the solution hit me with the force of a wailing baby at 2am in the morning.

Remember those early, halcyon days when it was just the two of you, drifting down the river of life in your little love boat?

And then, one day, that starry-eyed idea grabbed hold of the rudder and wouldn’t let go, chanting:

Time to have a baby! Time to have a baby!

 

You glowed with the excitement of having a little bambino and becoming a family.

That wasn’t enough to keep the cold waters of reality from splashing over the decks, though.

There might have been the morning sickness that left you absolutely still, hiding under your covers, praying the nausea wouldn’t find you there this time.

It might have been that roller-coaster, stomach dropping feeling of But we’re not ready! as you sailed along through the ever faster currents towards the big white water rapids, knowing that there was no turning back now.

And then, in the blink of an eye, the baby arrived.

Your precious bundle came with sleepless nights, surprising costs, and much later, a rising tide of independence and some bad behavior, too.

Your friends who chose to never have children just looked at you in bewilderment and pity, and wondered why in the world you had chosen that obviously difficult path. All they saw was the hard work, the heartache and the struggles.

They never got to experience those heart-bursting, overflowing with unconditional love moments, when your child wrapped their chubby little hand tightly around your finger, or hugged you with all their sweet-smelling freshly bathed toddler might, and sleepily whispered, “I love you, mommy.”

 

Well, there are a lot of parallels to becoming involved in a workcamp.

 

It’s months of preparations and the spending of lots of money, keeping watch over hundreds of details, and rounding up and encouraging countless volunteers.

Opening day comes faster than you thought possible. The buses joyfully roll into the school in waves, filled with hooting, cheering and singing kids. The paint decorated windows proclaim the group just as surely as the colorful flags on the clipper ships of long ago explorers.

Everyone settles in, and the rigorous work begins.

The hours are long, the conditions hot and humid, and the work dirty. The lodging conditions are spartan, with everyone sleeping on the hard floor of shared classrooms, boys on one floor, girls on the other.

Difficulties surface in the tasks, relationships, facilities and the projects.

 

But through it all, there is an abundance of hope and happiness, of love and laughter that makes the journey so worthwhile.

 

You watch as six individuals who don’t know each other-five teens and a youth leader-become a cohesive force to be reckoned with as they work at wrestling their projects into submission and completion.

You hear residents—the homeowners—struggle with telling their stories and sharing their thanks as they are overcome by the unconditional love and caring offered by the campers.

You see the hang-on-for-life hug of gratitude between a teary-eyed elderly resident and a shy and gangly teen-aged boy, both of whom had thought they didn’t matter to anyone.

You feel the joy thunder through the gym and reverberate through the stands into the soles of your feet as over four hundred voices are raised in songs of praise and thankfulness for God and how he works in our lives through the good and the difficult.

You receive bear hug upon bear hug on closing night, as campers come to you with smiling and tear-stained faces, unprepared for the emotion of the week, overflowing with the surprise and immeasurable thankfulness of how much they have cared and have been cared for by so many others.

 

You can’t help but tear up as you see God’s love shared in beautiful and practical ways, as hearts and homes are made new.

 

If you’ve never had a chance to see, feel or experience an event such as this, I can see where you might not understand our enthusiasm for volunteering at workcamp.

I hope, however, I have given you a glimpse of what it can be like to help nurture the seed of an idea into something so very beautiful.

I hope as well to have encouraged you to take a leap of faith into a volunteer project, whether workcamp or any other, that suits your style and conditions. The really good news is that you don’t have to be perfect, or an expert, or even experienced, for that matter.

You just have to want to help.

And know that you just may experience a sea-change in your heart as well.

 

Questions for today: Have you thought about volunteering, but just haven’t taken action? Have you had a terrific volunteer experience? Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone who thinks they don’t have the time or experience to volunteer? Please share in the comments. You just never know how far the ripples you start will go!

 

Sharing at NOBH, Better Mom, Finding Heaven, Things I Can’t Say

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Comments

  1. Oh, so true. The hardest work brings the greatest rewards, right? Even when we have to dig deep to find them. It sounds like your efforts made a difference in people’s lives – bravo!

    • The hardest work sure does bring the greatest rewards, Becky. I believe we did make a difference. I know one of the residents was at church yesterday and spoke about the teens who came to help at her house. She said she had already gotten emails from a couple of them, and was thrilled they had sent a message to her.
      I love hearing stories like that and knowing I that I got to play a small part in the big picture.

  2. Oh my – you brought me to tears! Thank you so much for sharing. It’s so true that we can’t (don’t) reap the rewards of serving till we actually do it.

    (and it’s so hard to put the feelings into words – but you did an AWESOME work with this post!)

    • Lori, your comment hit me in the heart and thank you for your kind words. I am so glad you were touched by this story. My hope is that people who have looked at volunteering as a chore will have a change of heart and find an opportunity that suits them. Thanks for coming by!

  3. I hopped over from No Ordinary Blog Hop. I love this post. Until you actually volunteer for something, you just don’t “get” it. I just recently began volunteering at an after-school program for disadvantaged teens. The stories I’ve heard and witnessed just break my heart. But, I know that I am a stable force in their life they might not have– and by teaching them crafts and scrapbooking I might be giving them a way to relax and forget for a bit. It amazes me when I mention volunteering and people say “Oh, I donated money.” It is just not the same as hearing kids tell you thank you or see them light up with an idea that you helped them with. Thanks for this post.

    http://www.momontherunx2.com

    • Julia, I can only imagine the lives of the teens you help and the stories you hear. People give in multiple ways: time, talents and money, and they all have value. But as you note, if you want to really rock your world, volunteering your time can be a truly fulfilling experience. Kudos for helping those teens, and coming by to share your story.

      There are so many different ways to share our talents and help others. I hope your story inspires others to think about what they can do!

  4. A group from my church just shared about the mission trip they took to El Salvador recently. Everyone had glowing words to say, very similar to what you’ve shared here, Kim. I think these kinds of experiences are so amazing and life-altering–not just for those we help, but for our own hearts. You’ve proven that to me here and it makes me reconsider my lack of direct involvement with a project like this. Thanks for the nudge!

    • You are welcome, Beth. Something important to consider is to take your passion, strengths and talents, and see where they fit with a need. For the previous workcamp, I had helped with the steering committee, but realized this past year that my strong suit was not that organizational piece.

      There is something very humbling, satisfying and wonderful about putting yourself out there. Just like Nike says, Just do it! Keep me posted on what you do, and thanks for joining the conversation.

  5. You continue to inspire me, dear Kim, with your boundless energy for service . . . thanks for sharing your serving heart with me when I lived there, and for continuing to do it over the inter-waves ;-)
    Miss you.

    • Oh, miss you too, Miss Anna! I have followed your journey to the Middle East and back. You are an inspiration all the way from there to here!
      Remember when we met at one of the previous workcamps? Doug put us together to create the photographic display for the end of week celebratory barbeque.

  6. Glad you’re back, Kim! I’m excited to hear about your fruitful week. I love work projects and I think it’s fun to work with a group of friends. Our group serves dinner at the local Rescue Mission, and we always come away with a new appreciation for the blessings in our lives. After we finish the clean-up, we go to dinner together. It’s a great evening to not only serve but also connect.
    Hugs from VA :)

    • What a tremendously rewarding way to spend time serving with friends, Susan! I love serving with others. The energy just seems to grow exponentially!

      Thanks for sharing one of the ways you serve. Not only does it give someone an idea of what they might be able to do, but it also makes folks aware that their friends and neighbors may be serving in ways and places where they can, too. <3

  7. I just wrote a post for my students about serving, and I wondered if you would mind if I put in a link to this post for their families? You really captured the enthusiasm about volunteering that I was hoping to share with them. Thank you, Kim, for your blog. You are such an encouragement!

  8. I’ve never had the privilege of helping on community homes. My nephew is a missionary to the American Indians and they just had 50 people spend ten days there putting a bathroom in the church, painting it inside and out and various other improvements. I saw the blessing–it’s amazing what sheltering can do. I admire your work spirit and the delight you receive from sheltering others.

    • Your nephew must have really enjoyed being able to help with those improvements! It is amazing how that kind of help can inspire everyone. Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts here!

  9. It’s been a while since I volunteered. I got burnt out doing it- agreeing to one thing and then getting 10 more piled ontop of me. I had to take a break.

    • I am sorry to hear you got burnt in more ways than one. :-(

      It happens way too often, I think. In our hearts we know that it’s a good thing, we might think if we don’t do this then it will go undone, we might feel just plain pressured, or we have trouble saying no and setting boundaries. I know I have struggled with each of those in the past.

      An older, wiser woman once counseled me that it wasn’t good to sign on for lots of volunteer commitments, whether of our own decision or from being asked/pressured. She said that doing so left us dry and withered, and certainly not with a giving and loving heart. She shared it also didn’t leave room for other folks to step up to the plate. She recommended looking for that right fit of my passion, my skills & talents, and my situation, and reminded me that my volunteer efforts would probably change with the seasons in my life. She was so right on all counts. For example there were things I said no to so that I could say yes to this camp.

      I hope a season comes when you are refreshed and ready to dip your toes into the pool of volunteering again.

  10. Sounds like you birthed a wonderful “baby” of joy at workcamp…Thank you for sharing, Kim :)

  11. Heidi Parker says:

    As one of the residents, I can’t say what an impact these kids and volunteers had on our lives. Both through their hard devoted work and their spirits. They helped us in so many ways. I only wish we could have spent more time with them. My husband, a Disabled Veteran, was changed by this experience. I could see his heart open to God, and for both of us, a light at the end of the tunnel. Not to mention the company, and a little relief for myself. My husband suffers from non- epileptic seizures, which requires 24 hour care, so I had a small breather that week. Thank you all so much from the bottom of our hearts!
    Heidi Parker

    • Heidi, I am so humbled by your comments. I am so grateful you were part of our camp, and found the experience so wonderful. You are very welcome, and blessings to you and your husband!

  12. I could feel the excitement Kim. Thanks for sharing it.

    As the Dir. of North Texas Youth for Christ, I get the opportunity of experiencing changed lives. Sometimes those lives are changed at camp. I had the opportunity two weeks ago of taking 5 urban high school kids to be on a “work crew” at a YFC camp in CO.

    It was hard work, it was exhausting and it was a blast. Five kids who may not otherwise have a chance to experience life outside of Texas, spending the week in serving 250 kids their same age.

    I won’t take the space here but I’ll just say it changed their lives and impacted mine in a very positive way.

    • What an eye-opening experience for those urban kids! I can only imagine the ripples you set in motion by being part of that volunteer effort. Kudos to you and the kids for stepping out and lending a helping hand up! Thanks for sharing your story. I hope it helps to move hearts to hope and helpfulness!

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