From Affect Magazine

I wrote a piece for Affect Magazine about the past year.

Like many people, I’ve long been a proponent for charity and volunteer work, but alas, most of my efforts had been online. In late 2013, after the death of a friend, I made an early New Year’s resolution—volunteer in all fifty United States throughout 2014. It’s now November, and I’ve only got two states left to go. Here are some things I’ve learned this year–use them well…more.

A Truth I’ve Learned (#1)

benleroybelocalWhile doing this project, I’ve had a few opportunities to check in with myself to see where I am and consider where I want to be. I don’t mean that strictly from a geographic perspective (though I would love to be somewhere not freezing, but that’s not my point right now), but more from a “ok, so you’re doing this, what are you learning, what do you want to learn?” approach.

Sometimes when you turn the microscope on yourself you find cracks and flaws you didn’t think existed or didn’t want to fully own. But I am confronting these things as honestly as I can as they arise. If I were to keep it to myself, it would simply be to try bettering myself. But I also want to share them with you, because I want to show that this is a truly human endeavor and I want you to know that if you’re dealing with similar issues, you aren’t alone.

The first time I called myself out on a shortcoming was when looking at volunteer opportunities I saw one to help elderly folks with shoveling their sidewalks and driveways. I might have creaky knees and wrists, buy I’m still pretty handy with a shovel. I kept reading for more details. It’s then that I noticed the neighborhood and thought to myself, “Oh, well, it’s kind of dangerous over there, I don’t think I want to do that.”

A few seconds later a voice in my head spoke up – “Why are you pledging to do volunteer work this year? You want to help, but only in nice environments where you’ll feel safe and in your comfort zone? Is that it?”

That resonated with me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was my full understanding that this bad neighborhood also happened to be a significantly economically disadvantaged neighborhood. You know, the kind of place that needs help because resources aren’t as readily available? Which, if I was going to hold myself accountable, made me sound a little selective in my compassion as it relates to faith vs. deeds.

Though I did not grow up in a religious household and I do not identify with any particular religious school of thought (I have taken many lessons, some of them the same, from various books both holy and secular), I have an affinity for the Book of James found in the New Testament.

The gist of it, for those not familiar, is that it’s all well and good to declare yourself compassionate and wanting to help, but if you don’t actually go and do something about it, then really you’re just talking.

The last few days, as a reminder to myself, I’ve written “James 2: 14-17” on my wrist.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.

I pride myself on wanting to help wherever and however I can. In theory. In faith. This year will be a test. I hope that I will have a record of deeds by the end of the year to pass it. I invite you to call me out on it if you notice I seem to be doing softer things when it is clear there are other opportunities I’m missing.

Because we’re in this together. All of us. Even the people who aren’t reading. And the only way we’re going to end up in a better place is to be honest with ourselves and the world around us, and then do what we can to help.

Love not Fear,

b.