Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making Your Mark: How to Find Purpose in a Busy Life

I have been "The Girl in Motion" now for over seven months. The support and readership that I have received has been overwhelmingly encouraging.

One of the things that I really hoped for when starting this blog was that I could write about things that people really cared about. I have always welcomed suggestions to blog posts and last week, I received my first one. My good friend Tammy wrote me,

"I've been keeping up with your blogs and constantly feel inspired to become a better "me" and make a difference in the world. As a stay at home mom with a husband in the military, that dream sometimes seems out of reach. What would you say to mothers everywhere who are looking to make an imprint on the world or perhaps make a better life for themselves and their families?"

Wow. What a great idea. I have many friends who are my age (or younger!) who have started their families and have taken the steps down an amazing chapter of life that I have yet to discover.

While these wonderful people may want to "change the world" and give back as much as they can, the truth is that it easier said than done. With mouths to feed, and the other responsibilities tied to growing a family, it can be hard to have time to volunteer, travel, or even spend time learning a new skill.

While I may not be a mother or even a wife yet myself, I know based on my experiences with my own mother and father and close relatives, that no matter where you are at in life, you can still make a difference in the world and fulfill a purpose to give to others while fostering a healthy life at home.

So whether you are a new mom, a new spouse, or just a person with a schedule that keeps you busy all hours of the day, here are some ideas to help you find fulfilling purpose in your days, no matter how filled to the brim they are already.


1. Sponsor a child


Education is the key to ending the cycle of poverty. While volunteering in Tanzania in 2012, I saw just how much education changed and even saved young, poverty stricken lives. By sponsoring a child through World Vision, Compassion International or even better, Faces4Hope, the organization I volunteered with, you will be changing a young person's life month after month.

When I was growing up, my family sponsored a young boy named Haldon. His picture was on our fridge right next to our arts and crafts and photos of other family members. Even at a young age, I would see Haldon's face and think of what his life might be like in Honduras. He wrote us letters about how he loved soccer and how his favorite subject in school was math. I was happy that my family could help him and I longed to someday meet him at his home.

Helping the children sponsored through Faces4Hope write letters to their sponsors in 2012
By sponsoring a child, you not only change the life for one child, you impact the lives of your own children. You show them that other children are less fortunate and that it is important that we do what we can to help. The letters that the sponsored children send to their sponsor families help show kids that "poor people" are just regular people like us. They just weren't born with the same opportunities.

You can sponsor a child through most agencies for $30-$40 a month, a minor investment for a huge benefit to the child, your children, and generations to come from both. Click here to sponsor a child now.


2. Store some granola bars in your car.


When I lived in Florida, my route to work went through this intersection that always had a homeless person on it. Most of the time, I was stopped at the light with a perfect opportunity to give the person something, so I started buying extra boxes of granola bars and keeping them in my car. Every time I would stop at that light, I would give a granola bar to whoever was there and I would try to say something nice to them.

Sure, a granola bar isn't much, but having a chance to recognize that person as a human, even going as far to ask them their name, is something that could instill hope. I am aware that a lot of homeless people have ended up on the streets due to their own wrongdoing, but rather than seeing them beg forever, wouldn't you rather help them turn their lives around?

By keeping snacks stored in your car for the occasions that you come across these folks, you never have an excuse to not reach out, smile, say hello and possibly inspire someone else who is watching you to follow your actions in the future. We need to take care of each other, no matter what our past looks like.


3. Mentor an underprivileged youth


I first became a mentor while in my AmeriCorps program in Central Florida. I was a mentor to five young girls living in the inner city between the ages of 6 and 16. Pretty much the only thing that these girls and I had in common was that we fact that we were female.

We were different races from different backgrounds. Even my youngest mentee had seen things in her life, I'm not sure I will ever see. Though, as different as we were, we found connection. These girls opened up to me about their hopes and dreams, their struggles with their parents, and with teachers.

While sometimes I felt that I could do nothing to help these girls in their present circumstance, I was a person that they could talk to and maybe even look up to. I didn't need to be their mom, but I could be their sister. I took a couple of them out to the mall, we would walk around, get a Slurpie, chat about boys. Sometimes that is all someone needs for encouragement, someone who believes in them.

There are many organizations out there that you can become a mentor through. Whether it is a church program, Big Brothers Big Sisters, or even a young person you come across in everyday life. Even an hour once a week will make impactful changes on a young person at trivial part of their life when they are searching for answers. To look for a young person needing a mentor in your area, click here.


4. Visit your local animal shelter


I love animals. My whole family loves animals. If we could fill our house with dogs, cats, fish, rats, and hamsters, we totally would. But, instead of turning our home into a zoo, my parents regularly took us to our local humane society. Even at the age of eight, I was a regular volunteer at the shelter and spent many hours holding kitties and taking dogs for walks just to give them the love that a future owner hopefully would.

Our visits to the humane society taught me that all animals need love. Although I left every day wishing I could take them home with me, I knew that I was able to give the animals a break from their cage and was preparing them for a future life with the right owner.

My sister and I playing with the animals at the humane society, circa 1995 


Volunteering at the humane society also introduced me to the need to fundraise. I participated in their yearly fundraiser multiple years but walking around my block with a jar, asking people to donate to help save the animals. Since that day, fundraising has continued to be my strongest skill.

By including your young ones in visits to the pound or humane society, you can let them love on animals that have yet to find homes. It may even introduce them to the world of charitable giving and why it is so important.


5. Give gifts away at Christmas


Starting back in grade school, our classrooms had the opportunity to sponsor a family every Christmas. What started as a classroom project, my family soon adopted as a family project as well. Coming from a small town, I knew there were people across the world who were poor and animals close by that needed our help, but also people that needed our help? Here?

For a number of years, my family brought Christmas to another family by buying gifts and things that they needed and bringing it to their homes. I'll never forget the light in the children's faces when they saw bags of presents wrapped in shiny paper brought into their homes and set under the tree.

Instead of simply giving the gifts and going, we often chatted with the family, showed them that we were no different than them and wished them a very Merry Christmas. These memories I have with my family show me the importance of giving back in your own backyard. No matter where you live, there is need and it is often a need you can fulfill if you can only get past the "awkwardness" of helping someone you may personally know.

6. Perform random acts of kindness


Boy is this an easy one. There are thousands of opportunities in our days to do something kind for someone else. I took a stab at this back in 2012 and was amazed with the ways it impacted my own life. Random acts of kindness can be anything from baking cookies for your neighbor, to paying for the groceries of the person behind you at checkout.

When I first started purposefully performing random acts of kindness, I was blown away with not only the happiness it brought me, but also a broader view it gave me to the world around me. It is easy to fall into the feeling that the world revolves around us. It is easy to think of the strangers around us as only bodies, with no emotions or agendas of their own. By choosing to give to a stranger, it forces you to think of them as a living being. You wonder how they will react to the gift and how it will impact their present and future. It brings you to a new level of caring and a new respect for life.

Kids are great at coming up with ideas to give back, they also don't have the reservations or awkwardness that we as adults feel when approaching strangers. By coming up with ideas together with your kids on how to perform random acts of kindness, you are instilling in them the behavior of compassion and love for all people, even people who they do not know.


7. Volunteer when you can


There are always ways to volunteer in your community. Whether it is for your church, your children's school or a local charity, people need help to get things done. There are a lot of opportunities to volunteer as a whole family as well.

When I was growing up, I remember several Thanksgivings being spent with my whole family serving food to the less fortunate people in our little community. I have also ran races and seen families handing out water to runners at the water station.

My little cousin's Isabella and Landon collecting donations for the Salvation Army

Don't have any plans for the weekend? Tired of just taking your kids to the park? Check out the opportunities near you to volunteer. You can view your local craigslist or www.volunteermatch.org, which allows you to see all kinds of volunteer opportunities in your area and reserve a date and a time to serve. Also, many volunteer positions are a one-time thing, so you don't have to worry about having to commit long term.


8. Take care of your neighbors


In this day and age, it is easy to not know your neighbors. We are more connected to our Facebook than the people living next door to us. I was thankfully part of the generation who had parents that were used to getting to know their neighbors.

There were two elderly women who lived close to us. One across the street and one next door. Our family knew them well. We were often invited in for cookies and other sweet treats that come from the hands of next-door grandmas. In the years that we lived next door to each of these ladies, both of them lost their husbands. For years, these women lived without their mate and companion.

I remember many times that my dad asked me to get up early help him shovel out Valerie's driveway. It had snowed 7 inches that night and we knew she drove to church every Sunday. Of course, I hated to get up and go out in the cold, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

Make it a priority to get to know and take care of the people around you. It is too easy to keep to yourself. Be different, you can gain so much from a relationship with someone who lives just one door down.

9. Support local art, theater and music


There are so many ways that we can spend money. It is not often, even for the creative type of consumer, to spend money on supporting local theater and arts.

When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to be cast in a production of Godspell. Thanks to a killer director and the talent of my fellow cast members, we sold out nearly every show, added more shows and raked in more money than our school's theater club had seen in quite some time.

With they extra money that our show made, our director took the entire cast to see two broadway shows in Seattle. He wanted to show us the opportunities that we would have if we continued in the arts and reward us for the hours we poured into creating the show. For many of us, this was our first exposure to Broadway. This opportunity would not have been available to us if we hadn't had such a supportive audience. To this day, much of that cast of performers is still creating art through music, writing and even comedy.

Every community, no matter how small, has artists blossoming in it. Check your local calendars and try to support the arts in whatever way possible. Whether it is through music, dance, theater or artistry, many children express themselves though some form of art. Give them as many opportunities as you can to experience it first hand.


10. Take family vacations


Having a family can be expensive. With tight budgets, it can be hard to make vacations a priority. Being the oldest of four children in my family, I remember taking many camping trips with my young parents. They couldn't afford to fly us to the Bahamas or hop on a cruise boat, but they could afford to drive an hour away and camp for the weekend. I have fond memories of some of our favorite vacation spots, and for the most part, they were within only a couple of hours from home.

I can clearly recall a couple of summers that we drove our large van, (complete with a backseat that folded down to a bed and a VCR and TV. We rolled in style), all the way down the west coast to San Diego. The trip usually lasted two weeks and had its fair share of crying babies, mosquito infestations, and car sickness. While it may not have always been pleasant, my family and I made memories that we will never forget. Ever. The yearly trips to San Diego also allowed us children to fall in love with a new city. For three of us four children, we now call San Diego home.

Even if you can't afford to give your young family an island getaway every year, take advantage of every opportunity to explore together. Many people think that when you start a family or get married, you throw adventure out the window, but I disagree. There is so much travel and discovery that you can have with those you love most, even if it is only an hour away from home.

After we got older, our vacations upgraded to Hawaii, but we are still the same cooky family!
Christmas 2010 above, Christmas 2012 below

So there you have it. Having a family and a long to-do list doesn't mean you can't give back, have an adventure, and learn something new about yourself. Being a mother or a father is a big task, but you owe it to your children to be the best person you can be. Explore and learn together. You may be the parent, but there is much to be learned from children too.

Don't listen to they naysayers who tell you that getting married and having children will take all of the fun out of your life. In reality, it may be the most fun you have ever had.

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