I am back from vacation and have almost recovered. Hopefully by the time this post shows up in your inbox I will have unpacked.
Let me tell you a little about how I spend my time for a week each June. For the past nine years I have packed up my WORST clothes, a bag of tools, and an air mattress to head into the Appalachian mountains with one or both of my kids and van loads of other adults and teenagers from my church youth group. This year there were 62 of us that divided into eight groups that worked to repair eight homes for people in that area who, for various reasons, have not been able to keep their homes either warm, safe or dry.
We go as volunteers for the Appalachia Service Project. Normally we reside in an unused high school, sleeping in either the gym or old classrooms, eating in the cafeteria and if we are lucky, showering in the old gym showers. Hot water is often a luxury.
I wish I could clearly explain why I do this, but there are so many layers of reasons that it is hard to separate them out. All I know is that each year this trip resets my heart/soul dials back where they are supposed to be.
The richest country on earth is not immune to serious poverty. Each year we have teenagers who suddenly see for the first time what poverty looks like. Each year, as adults, we remember how close we all walk to the thin line of disease and unemployment that can devastate a family. Each year, we are all reminded of what is truly important in life.
The last evening of our trip is spent in a “share circle” where everyone is welcome to share special moments of the week. This year the overriding message seemed to be “you are where you are supposed to be”. Many of the stories relayed events that in the midst of being busy, frustrated, delayed, something happened that made the individual(s) realize that if they had not been there at that moment, a bad thing could have been much worse. Several of the teenagers were on the verge of losing faith or dealing with difficult life/family situations and the events of the week renewed their faith/strength/determination. The adults are not immune to the power of these trips either. While we go there to help complete strangers and hope that we make a positive difference in their lives, as volunteers, we may be the ones who come away with the most change in our lives.
It’s not all work and seriousness by any means. I may not laugh all year as much as I do on this trip. I also don’t eat as much junk food and ice cream as I do on this trip! Not only do we get to know the people we help, we get to know each other. My crazy vacation reminds me that the next generation includes some amazing young people who will still bring goodness and humor into the future.
My advice to anyone who is finding life to be hard, busy, routine, boring or empty is to go and volunteer somewhere that takes you out of your comfort zone and puts you in service of others. It is the best anti-depressant on this beautiful earth.