I have been searching for a balance lately with how I am serving. My Life Group at church is studying the “Not a Fan” series by Kyle Idleman. In church, our worship series also just finished up overviewing the “Take 3” challenge, where we were challenged to 1) Personal Growth 2) Discipleship Training and 3) Service and Outreach. These 3 tied in nicely with what we were talking about in Sunday School, “5 Things God uses to grow your faith.” We’ve been doing all of these studies for the past 5 months. One of the “5 ways” was #4 – personal ministry, which links to service and outreach.
Then you throw in the “Not a Fan” series, which asks you whether you are a follower or a fan, pointing out that good deeds and an enthusiastic attitude might mean we know about Jesus, but what Jesus really wants is for us to know Him. Idleman stresses that we can’t sit on the sidelines and say we ardently love learning about Jesus, and then not use anything we have been taught to form a relationship with Him. So here’s where my balance comes in. I want to serve, but I also want to KNOW. And I think this weekend, serving felt like my heart was in the right place.
For the past 5 years, a local church (where I don’t know anyone) has given me 50 turkey tickets to distribute to needy families at the school where I am a counselor. We have a Title I school where 48% of our students receive free or reduced lunch. I’ve always had no trouble finding 50 families deserving of these tickets, which are redeemable for a free turkey and box of Thanksgiving sides. And it’s always been something I’ve checked off my work agenda – 50 tickets distributed, done!
This year, something compelled me to call the number on the ticket, that of a complete stranger, and inquire if they’d need help physically handing out the turkeys this year. I was expecting her to say, “no, we’re good, we’ve pretty much gotten it down to a science by now!” After all, they’ve been doing this for at least 5 years. Instead, the voice on the line said, “We need all the help we can get! We usually give out 150 turkeys, and this year, we have 300!” I was excited to see what this was all about. I always like knowing where I’m referring my students and their families.
Still, yesterday rolled around, and I was starting to change my mind. My back has been stiff since last weekend, when my husband ran a race and I carried our toddler on my left hip for nearly 2 hours on my feet. (Something I’m not supposed to do post-spinal fusion surgery.) Surely, I thought, they won’t notice if I don’t show up; they don’t even know me! I can’t possibly stand from 10:30-2:00 passing out frozen turkeys and food boxes – that repetitive leaning-over motion on my back would be brutal! And if I do, how much worse is my back going to feel afterward, when I need to do my long runs for training?
But I had committed, so I found the church, housed in a strip mall, and I walked in that door. Almost everyone in the fellowship hall came running over. “Are you the girl from the school? Oh we’re so excited that you’re here! The pastor told us all about you!”
The pastor gave me a tour, introduced me to everyone, and asked me how I’d like to help. I responded, “wherever you need me the most is fine!” To which he replied, “honestly, we really need someone to help sign people in. It would mean sitting here writing down their names, addresses, and phone numbers as they come in, so we can submit those names to the Food Bank.”
I nearly hugged him. “That sounds perfect!”
And the experience was very humbling. To see these families line up 30 minutes before we opened and come through the line, most of them SO gracious, and talk to them outside of school. I knew many of the families that came and called them by name, and I spoke to everyone. I wanted to serve, but not from some lofty vantage point. I hugged my kids and talked to them about their weekends, full of trips to the public library and time with family. I encouraged people to make a chili dog and sit right there in the middle of the room and have lunch with their families – I may or may not have eaten 2 chili dogs myself. 😉 Most of my students were so surprised to see their teacher outside of school, and maybe they didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but none of them were embarrassed to be there seeking help. To see elderly people come in connected to breathing tubes or in wheelchairs, to know these were the families I was serving. To know there was a teacher at my school who offered to cook a turkey for one of her students whose parent did not have the means to himself.
This is the spirit of service I want to seek, even if it means sacrificing weekend time with my family. It’s hard being a working mommy – I have a lot of mom guilt from only seeing my toddler each day for about couple hours before his bedtime, and most of that time consists of dinner and bathtime. But I’m trying to look for opportunities to serve in the time that I am given, so that my heart naturally becomes more that of a follower instead of a fan.
I’ve taken more advantage of little opportunities here and there – as the site liaison for the Girl Scouts program at my school, I was asked to cancel last week’s session when their leader was sick, but instead I just said, “send me the lessons. I’ll do them!” My family joyfully packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child this year, and I am co-starting a girls’ self-esteem-building running program in the spring that will consist of 24 after-school sessions. It is also inspiring to see how my husband has been driven to serve and give and help with relief in the Philippines, and it was interesting today how our pastor addressed the men specifically about these things, and I love how his messages open up conversations between me and my husband about faith and service more naturally now.
We switched churches when we started to feel complacent, and I think these messages were what we needed to hear – not to make us feel more comfortable in a place, but actually to get us OUT of our comfort zone and devoting our time to become better followers.