Easter Blessings: Give Back

The true gift of Easter is LOVE, forgiveness, hope, faith and the RESURRECTION.  Growing up Easter was always focused on God’s love.  To me love is giving of yourself to help others and putting your selfishness aside for a moment.  Giving is one of the purest forms of love and that is why this Easter holiday I encourage you to GIVE!  Give your TIME, tithe to a cause you are passionate about, sign a petition.  Do something that plants seeds of gratitude and pays love forward, without expecting anything in return.  LOVE is enough.

It's not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving. —Mother Teresa

The world is a broken, fractured place, war and desperation, hate fueled by fear – we need to rise up in LOVE, COMPASSION and SERVICE.  No matter what your religious beliefs, Easter is a living symbol of hope and a testament of good overcoming evil.  Good starts with ordinary miracles – the time we take to stand up for the least among us and fight hate with love.

Love can be as simple as preparing a meal for a sick neighbor or reading to someone in a nursing home…love has no boundaries.

One of my passions is volunteering and participating in outreach.  My job in retail has left me little time to pursue volunteerism – I feel empty because when you volunteer the gift of giving is amazing – you develop diverse ways of thinking, invest in compassion, discover courage and make friends and life long memories.  Volunteering is something many of us feel we don’t have time to carve into our busy lives – but it is so essential to living and investing in our communities.  The investment returns far greater dividends than just an hour of your time – a local outreach center for at risk youth can help build a strong foundation for empowering the neighborhood; a gardening co-op giving food to the hungry is green therapy with a purpose…service is the point of life and it is the seed of love.

I am posting this on Adele Belle today because I want to encourage my readers to step out of their shells and dedicate time to outreach.  In Christianity, Lent is a period of preparing a soul to receive Jesus’s Grace – forgiving others, confessing our sins and fasting…but LENT is also a time of service -loving humanity and in spite of the evils in the world and tumultuous times we live in  – in Lent we are called to love, to forgive and to serve.  This is the joy of Easter, being able to realize the simple joys in life – be GRATEFUL and be willing to stand up for the oppressed, feed the hungry and help the sick.  This call to SERVICE is not a burden but a gift!  If we let our selfishness die on the crosses we bear – love will sow great foundations – life is about service and love (in fashion, food, music…love and light is at work in creation and imagination)

No matter what your religious beliefs I call people into the joy of love and service.

‘I have NO TIME, I want to help, but I cannot work it into my schedule?’

Trust me I have been there – my job in retail leaves me exhausted with CRAZY hours, any free time is taken up with personal and professional commitments…still you have to make time to volunteer and SERVE.  An hour a week is fairly manageable if you work out your calendar…or one day a month for four hours.  Many non-profits are willing to have help in any matter you can commit – be it time, money, talents.

Talents?  In a former life I was a booking agent for bands and a PR agent – I loved my job.  When our church decided to do an outreach concert I was able to donate my marketing and music business talents to organizing the event – sometimes donating talents doesn’t entail much work. I have written Press Releases for non-profits that took roughly an hour and I could do it on my lunch break.  If you like to bake, well donate food to a church bake sale…there are so many ways to contribute.

I shout it with joy again: THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE –

What is your passion(s); What is your skill set; What would you do for free if you had the time?  These are a few questions that can lead you on your journey to volunteering.

I have a diverse mix of passions, which is a blessing but i often feel pressed/stressed for time to commit to what I love.

– The Great Outdoors: I’m passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands.  So every year on National Trails Day I go on a clean-up hike of a local trail…If you care about the environment, Sierra Club, National Parks Foundation and many local Meet UPs to get involved in your local parks, and natural spaces. I recommend Sierra Club, National Parks Foundation, Yellowstone Association, Greater Yellowstone Association (my heart is in love with Yellowstone) – every state and national park has a ‘Friends of’ or ‘Conservancy’ you can get involved with.

Another idea for TGO is volunteering to teach a course on fly-fishing, or mountain biking, kayaking…TIME is best given when you teach lessons for a lifetime.  This goes across the board for service.

– Animal Rescue and Wildlife Conservation: I love animals – I absolute ooh and aw at every single animal (except snakes, sorry Boa) and my passion is rooted deep in animal rescue.  In Nashville, I volunteered a few days a week (my lunch hour) at Nashville Humane socializing with cats and finding them forever homes.  I have also donated $5 a month to Alley CAT – who helps feral cats with Trap, Spay, Neuter, Release.  I mention my small donation amount because at the time that was more than I had to give – I gave what I could, every little bit makes a difference…

I also have volunteered at the Nashville Zoo for the Easter Zoo Hunt and Halloween festivities – it was a blast helping kids learn about animals and the importance of conservation.  Yes, I was volunteering, but I received a great gift in interacting with strangers and meeting new friends and critters too.

– Homelessness: My eyes have been open to homelessness after living in Bozeman Montana and meeting some extraordinary homeless people who were full of JOY for life – how can you be joyful in subzero degree temperatures living on the street?  Many worked, but the lack of affordable housing in Bozeman prevented them from finding an apartment.  In fact the majority of homeless work – and many of our nation’s homeless are kids.  We need to put down our EGOS and see the ‘belle’ in every soul – see the PERSON, not the stranger as a beggar.  GRACE is a powerful gift.  There is a story in the Midrash of Judaism about the Hebrews inviting God to dinner, he agreed to come and they made a big feast.  When a beggar came they chastised him – it turned out that beggar was God.  See love in everyone, even strangers.

Homelessness is a tough road and it is a diverse mix of problems within the parameters of chronic homelessness.  Salvation Army, Family Promise and Catholic Charities do a good job offering real world solutions to the problem of homelessness.  Whether it is therapy, shelter, food, support – there are many ways to help end homelessness.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food bank; donate food to a food bank – even if it is just one non-perishable item a shopping trip, provide blankets, clothes and other supplies to homeless shelters, be willing to give YOUR TALENTS to mentor a person in transition – know how to build a great resume – help the unemployed get their office skills sharpened up.  When someone asks you for money I have been told by former homeless PEOPLE who are now advocates – not to offer money but to offer food, shelter (hotel), gas card, bus fare and other goods as many struggle with addiction – more importantly you can offer information about area services that provide for their needs.  One advocate printed out cards with information about the local outreach groups within Durham NC and provided bus fare.

I will do a feature series on the Face of Homelessness and how we can help EMPOWER our communities with outreach in a few months.  I recommend asking your church, friends, and researching area non-profits and shelters focusing on homelessness….

One major element of homelessness that is important for me is domestic abuse and human trafficking.  The Salvation Army is on the forefront of combating trafficking – if you cannot donate time –  recommend giving a donation to your local SA specifying your donation focus.

EASTER IDEAS for GIVING:

– If you are strapped for time, then give with your pocketbook – while cash is always beneficial to legit non-profits, you can also gift from their online stores.  A gift from the Sierra Club or Animal Rescue Site (or whatever your charitable focus is) will not only help the organization but bring a smile to someone’s face…

– Give clothes #MessyCloset, donate your clothes to a thrift store such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill – they employee workers in transition and uplift those at their lowest, many churches and local civic organizations have a consignment shop for outreach as well. The Junior League operates The Bargain Box in Raleigh’s Cameron Village

– Call a friend, send a card to a friend and a stranger – haven’t heard from a friend in a while – call them and see how they are doing, send Easter cards filled with joy and thoughtful messages.  I read a story once about a person who sent cards anonymously to strangers from phone book addresses just to send a ray of sunshine – I know many might find that unnerving so perhaps translate that into ‘Paying it Forward,’ buy someone a meal – leave a gift card with a tip – little things make the world of difference.  When I was waiting tables in college, I’d had a horrible day and was worried about paying my bills and tuition – I gave good service to a customer and tried to stay upbeat, I was SHOCKED when they left me $40 in cash for a tip – it covered me until payday – what a blessing!  It might seem light a small gesture of kindness but it will go a long way.

– Make a meal, or Easter basket for a neighbor – many of us don’t know our neighbors in this tech world – take time to show hospitality to your neighbors – even if you just pop by to say hello.

– Send flowers to the ICU of a hospital wing

– Drop off books and coloring sets to a local school or foster home

– Go to the hospital and volunteer to read for patients, particularly those in hospice – be the Angel of HOPE they need in time of darkness and suffering.  I will never forget those that took time to care for me when I was recovering from a car accident (I broke my neck, right leg and wrists/hands in 2002) – the kindness of strangers saved me

– Give your talents – Love to play guitar – teach a child a lesson, Good at resume building – do a free seminar at the library – you will be rewarded far more than the time you carve out.  MENTOR (Big Brothers Big Sisters is a personal favorite) is a great way to help enrich a person’s life so they can rise to their potential against a sea of challenges.

– Pray – even if you are not religious – a simple prayer from love in your heart does make a difference.

– Donate to a cause: We’ve already breached this topic but I want to reiterate the tithe at Easter.  We live in greedy times and the best cure against greed is giving of ourselves and our money to help others.  Tithing is an act of love and is simple and rewarding.  When you tithe say ‘I am GRATEFUL for my Abundance, I am passing it on!’ $10 might seem like a minute amount to a non-profit, but trust me every penny is a mile paved – The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was paid in part by children collecting pennies to buy the land!

– Donating to cause doesn’t necessarily mean a huge chunk of time or money.  I often cite Freerice.com – this site is managed by the UN – it tests your vocabulary and knowledge on a variety of subjects. For every correct answer you give 10 grains of rice – 100 grains will feed a person for a day – it is a fun mental exercise and free to you – while making a world of difference…another great website is The Greater Good/Animal Rescue Site – one click a day provides food for a shelter animal (plus tons of other awesome programs)

In the Episcopal Church we focus on Episcopal Relief and Development – This is a wonderful organization with a 75 year old track record in serving those in need.  They do outreach in the US and worldwide through relief efforts and development.  You can make a huge impact with $50-$100, which will pay for a cow or goat for an impoverished family in Africa, Asia and beyond…you can also contribute to building clean water wells and other services.

I hope this gives you the spark to ignite the fire of love in the world.  It only takes a spark to help someone light their way in the darkness – and I promise the fire will kindle your soul too!

Infographic: Why Volunteering is Good for Your Health, Your Career, and the Community. Volunteers are happier and healthier, with less likelihood of having a number of serious health conditions. © CreditDonkey

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