For many years now, I have actively made an effort to give to others more than I did the year before. It is something that I enjoy doing, along with my wife, and together we are constantly striving to teach our children to do the same. I am very blessed to have a teenage son who LOVES to give back to others, simply out of the kindness of his heart. For most of his life, he has pretty much had all of his needs, and wants, met without knowing what it is like to struggle or go without. His older brother, on the other hand, experienced struggling and going without – to a moderate degree – when he and his young, single mother scraped by for many years just trying to pay rent and buy groceries. I wasn’t able to instill the importance of giving back to others when he was young, because we just didn’t have any extra to give. There were a few Thanksgivings and Christmases that were so lean, that I cried at the thought of having nothing for my young son; feeling like a failure as a mother. Of course I know that the holidays aren’t about superficial or material things, but just like most parents, you want to be able to provide gifts for those that you care about the most. It was during those times of lean that I truly learned that there is indeed a lot of good in a lot of people. I remember one Christmas in particular, when we lived in a small, two bedroom apartment, and I didn’t have any money for food, let alone Christmas presents for my three year old. On a Saturday afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas, I got a knock on my door. When I opened it, there stood Santa Claus – arms filled to the brim with groceries. As I stood there, with my mouth open, he brought them in and set them down, and then left to go get more. He returned with more food, then left again, only to return with a large box of wrapped toys that he placed under my bare tree. Just before he and his helpers left, he told me that someone had signed me up for the Secret Santa at the Methodist church in my town, and that he hoped that this helped us have a better Christmas. I remember hugging Santa and crying, so thankful that someone had taken just a moment to think of us and provide such an endearing, life-changing moment. That Christmas, and that ten minutes of my life, forever changed how I looked at the world around me. I vowed that whenever I was able, I would always do whatever was in my power to do the same for those who needed help.
It would be a good many years before I was in a position to do very much for anybody beyond my own family. I would donate clothes, shoes, or toys regularly, and that was all I could do for a long time. I would donate small amounts of money here and there as I could. I would donate my time here and there for a cause, always remembering that Christmas and knowing that someday I would do more. Eventually, I would join a service-based sorority, and over the years have done many charity functions and events with my sisters. It has just been in the last few years that I have been in a place where I am able to do more and give more than I ever have in the past. We, my family, along with the families of my sisters, have started many traditions of giving that we have watched continue to grow with each passing year. Some years we have donated our time and our cooking to feeding families staying in the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas while their children are in the hospital.
We have, for several years, donated items to Newborns in Need, who provide sleepers and blankets for young moms having babies at Parkland Hospital of Dallas. We donate time, money, and physical energy towards at least one breast cancer event each year. My family, along with my sisters this year, collect diapers in lieu of gifts for our daughter’s birthday, and donate them to an organization in Dallas that gives them to homeless families. Last weekend, at her third birthday party, between my sisters and those who came to her party, we collected almost 1700 diapers to donate!
My wife and I also volunteer four times a year at a cancer retreat, where she might lead a session of arts & crafts, and I run the kitchen for the weekend. Recently, one of my sisters and I volunteered on a Saturday morning to make sandwiches for the homeless, and were blown away at the coming-together of our community to make 4400 sandwiches in less than an hour.
Several years ago, I wanted to give back to one of the schools in our community that my middle son attended, so my sisters and I made them a Thanksgiving basket to gift to one of their families in need. The next year, we did two baskets. The year after that, we did three baskets. And last year, we did ten baskets. Our goal for this year is a dozen baskets, but we may end up exceeding that if the interest and donations are up!
So while all of this feels wonderful and makes most people want to keep doing it over and over, there often comes a time when we are faced with putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak. What do I mean? I mean that sometimes we are confronted with the choice of supporting a charity, or not, based on personal choice, moral codes, or ethical behavior that we either agree or disagree with. I’m not talking about not going to Chick-Fil-A and giving them my money because the founder’s son doesn’t agree with gay whatever. Or not giving Hobby Lobby my money because they stand against women’s rights of choice in their own family planning. But we don’t typically give to Boy Scouts of America because of their stance on allowing LGBT parents to act in a role of leadership in individual troops. We feel strongly about it, as parents, because the parents of these scouts are just exactly the same as any of the other troop leaders: Parents. We typically don’t give our money, or donated goods, to the Salvation Army, largely due to their anti-LGBT policies and practices of discrimination. But those are just a few examples and reasons that are important to US – and no, we don’t expect anybody to go along with us in our stances unless they hold the same ideals and beliefs.
But what if we are called upon to provide help in a time of need to a group (like a church or charity, for example) that we don’t care for all that much, or that we don’t agree with and also know that they don’t particularly care for us? Is it our place to judge their level of need? Is it our place to pick and choose, knowing that without the help that we could provide, their need might not get met? I feel like, when faced with two roads before me – one is to give without question, and one is to say that the need is not great enough – which one will I choose? It shouldn’t be a hard choice. If my heart has in it to give – be it time, money, service, or goods – then when a need is presented to me, there should be no question as to whether I will or not. When charitable work becomes about US, then we are no longer doing it for honorable reasons. So what I thought might be a dilemma should never be. If I give of myself, and I share that with those around me, then my gift of paying something forward should never be in question because of the recipient. THIS is how we become an example to our children, and how we teach them to become selfless people who care about their fellow mankind. I’m excited for all of the upcoming opportunities that my family, along with my sisters, will have to give back.
And all of this is not to brag, boast, or say how great I am because I do these things. This is hopefully a way to show how easy it is to help others, and hopefully inspire even one person to do so. Pay it forward folks. You never know when you might be the one in the position of needing that help. This is repayment time in life for me. Repayment for countless times of help, either monetarily or otherwise, when I wasn’t in my best places emotionally or financially. Repayment for every meal, visit, help with kids, fundraiser, message of hope, and encouragement that I received from diagnosis to remission. I am forever grateful to those who came together for me and my family after my cancer diagnosis – friends, family, and many that I don’t even know. People gave of themselves with their time, their talent, their finances; and I will forever be indebted to do the same as often as I am able. And always remember, a little goes a long way. We need to all just take care of each other…okay??