The Heart of the Volunteer

My husband and I aren’t fans of reality shows, but there is one that has caught our attention—Secret Millionaire, which airs Sunday nights on ABC.

In this show, millionaires go undercover with the story that they’re filming a documentary about volunteers. They move into poverty-stricken—and sometimes dangerous—areas for a week with few dollars to live on. Their goal is to find worthy community programs, and then donate portions of their wealth to help continue the work being done.

So far we’ve watched entrepreneur Dani Johnson spend a week in Knoxville, Tennessee. Real estate investor Marc Paskin spend a week in the dangerous part of Detroit. And motivational guru James Malinchak live on welfare-level wages in Gary, Indiana, where he had to worry about bullets flying through his window.

What they discovered has probably changed their lives forever. They found people who clean up neighborhoods, and those who patrol them to lessen the number of crimes committed. Volunteers who provide after-school programs, mentoring and educational programs for children and adults, soup kitchens, and transportation to medical appointments and dialysis.

One family completely makes over bedrooms of very ill or terminally ill children so they have a cheery place to stay. Because of finances being drained, they didn’t know if they could continue fixing up bedrooms—even though the need is great—until they were presented with large check by one of the millionaires.

The wealthy who write out the large checks should be appreciated for their generosity. They don’t have to share a penny of what they’ve earned through ingenuity and hard work. But the real heroes are the volunteers and people who run these programs day after day.

People with little money to live on are giving many hours to their communities—hoping to make a better place—a better life—for others. They provide opportunities for young people to not only stay out of trouble, but to possibly go to college. These volunteers scrape by with whatever funds they can raise. They don’t ask for anything for themselves, but they give so much.

What has impressed and moved me is the kind of heart these volunteers display—their genuine care and concern—their love—for people. They don’t volunteer to draw attention to themselves, or to receive accolades. They focus on helping others ahead of helping themselves.

It takes a servant’s heart to be that kind of volunteer. “Whoever wants to become great must become a servant.” (Matthew 20:26 The Message Bible)

I believe many of us would like to give our time and talents to help others. I believe we have good intentions. But, too often our willingness to actually jump in is hindered by perceived obstacles: it’s too far to drive, I don’t have time, it’s too much of a commitment, it’s too hard, I’m not qualified, it doesn’t fit into my schedule … Sometimes, we’re just plain selfish. I have to admit—I, too, am guilty of making excuses.

Of course, there's a flip side. There are those who burn themselves out because they volunteer too much! So where is the balance? What are we called to do? What is our passion? Where can our time and talents best be used?

The answer lies within our own hearts.

Book Review – Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander

Within My Heart is a historical romance set in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It’s 1877, and despite financial setbacks, recent widowed Rachel Boyd is determined to fulfill her late husband’s dream of raising their two boys on a successful ranch. A physician's daughter, and familiar with medical treatment, Rachel provided what care she could until a young doctor moved into the area.

Doctor Rand Brookston arrived in Timber Ridge several years earlier, hoping to one day build a proper clinic for the townspeople. Since patients tend to pay with food and bartered services, he wonders if he’ll ever save enough funds to see his dream come true. Rand admires Rachel from a distance, and he wonders why she seems to dislike him. He’s unaware that she resents doctors because of the hurtful relationship she had with her father.

When tragedy strikes and a close friend of Rachel's may die, she must put her personal feelings aside and rely on the young doctor's help. A tentative friendship begins as Rachel and Rand work together to provide medical care for Ben. Ben and his wife, Lydia, face their fears that he may not survive. Their marriage is a testimony to the love and devotion a husband and wife can have for each other, and the kind of peace God is willing to provide during times of crisis.

Rand is a masculine hero, but he’s also patient, gentle, and compassionate. Rachel is a feminine heroine, but she’s also strong, independent, capable, and stubborn. As they both deal with obstacles standing in the way of their dreams, they begin to trust and lean on each other.

Within My Heart is a story about having enough faith in God—his protection and plan for our lives—to face our deepest fears. Who doesn’t have some kind of fear, whether it’s real or imagined, huge or small?

Rachel fears that if she loses the ranch or cares for another man, she’ll dishonor her dead husband, who she deeply loved. Without knowing his history, Rand’s fear might seem irrational, but the cause of his fear makes it believable. It’s so real, it almost has a paralyzing affect on him. Both must overcome their fears if they are to live freely and fully.

Many things contributed to making this novel one of my new favorites: great writing, the setting, the characters and their relationships, a relatable theme, and the way medicine was incorporated into the story.

I highly recommend Within My Heart to anyone who enjoys reading historical romance.

Tamera Alexander is the best-selling author of the critically acclaimed historical series-- Fountain Creek Chronicles (Rekindled, Revealed, and Remembered), and Timber Ridge Reflections (From a Distance, Beyond This Moment, and Within My Heart). Tamera's The Inheritance, the 2010 RITA Award winner and 2010 Christy Award finalist, was the first historical for the Women of Faith Fiction line. Tamera's deeply drawn characters, thought-provoking plots, and poignant prose continue to earn devoted readers—and multiple industry awards.

These awards include the 2008 and 2009 Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, and the 2007 and 2010 RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance. Her books have also garnered the 2010 HOLT Medallion, the 2010 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, the Bookseller's Best Award, the International Readers Choice Award.

After living in Colorado for seventeen years, Tamera has returned to her Southern roots. She and her husband now make their home in Nashville, Tennessee with Tamera's father, Doug. They enjoy life there with Joe and Tamera's two adult children, and Jack, a precious—and precocious—silky terrier.

Feeling Groovy!

I’ve experienced one of those weeks where at the end of each day I’ve felt further behind. You know how it is—take one step forward and you end up two steps back. Frustrating, isn’t it?

In many ways, it’s my own fault. I’m a list maker, which can actually be a positive thing. But when I don't meet self-imposed deadlines—when I can't cross off tasks—it can affect my mood. That’s NOT a good thing.

Why is it that we Americans focus on being ultra-productive? People in other countries look at us and think we’re crazy. When my oldest daughter spent time in Spain, she loved the fact that everyone and everything shut down for a period of time in the afternoon so people could rest.

Can you imagine what would happen if we stopped doing business every day for an hour in the USA? People wouldn’t rest. They’d watch the clock, nervously tapping their feet to see when they could get back to their desk, computers, phones, and meetings.

I don’t think God intends for us to live this way.

I DO believe that he doesn’t want us to be lazy. God blesses hard work. But I think he also desires and honors balance in our lives. After all, God’s design included a day of rest.

Remember those lazy summer days when we were younger? A friend and I actually spent an afternoon lying on the lawn, watching clouds go by. I spent countless hours under a tree reading books without caring about anything else. I enjoyed working in my grandmother’s flower gardens. At times, I became totally absorbed in creating imaginary fairy worlds with flowers, leaves, acorns, and sticks.

We can’t be children forever … but I hope we don’t lose all childlike qualities. Along with being responsible and productive, don’t we also need to play?

I need to lighten up on myself when it comes to crossing things off my list. I need to set more realistic goals. Do you?

Years ago, the singing duo, Simon and Garfunkel, encouraged people to slow down with their “The 59th Street Bridge Song” (Feeling Groovy).

Listen … and relax.

Have a great week!

In the Quiet of the Night

I’m a bona fide night owl. Most nights, my biological clock encourages me to stay up until 1:00 a.m. or later. We live in a relatively quiet neighborhood. Usually by the time I crawl into bed, familiar daily noises are silent. I’ve learned to embrace those moments before falling asleep. My brain is set free to think, roam free, and create.

In the quiet of the night …

The clock on the first floor softly chimes the hour with the same tune my grandmother’s clock played—a part of my childhood. It reminds me that time doesn’t stand still; it shouldn’t be wasted.

My husband’s slow breathing as he slumbers next to me is comforting. I’m not alone. I thank God for blessing me with this man who loves me, takes care of me, and supports my dreams.

I’m grateful for my comfortable, warm, and clean bed. I think about the men, women, and children living on the streets of Seattle. Have they found shelter for the night? We financially support ministries who are there to help, but could we—should we—be doing more?

I think about the e-mail from a friend who ministers to children living on the streets in Peru. He and his staff provide shelter, food, education, health care, and lots of love. One of his “children” disappeared a few days ago. As they search for her, there’s concern she’s been taken by sex traffickers. I pray for her, hoping they’ll soon find her. I’m thankful that my own daughters are lying asleep—safe in their own homes.

A police helicopter hovers overhead, disturbing my thoughts with a loud pft-pft-pft—sounding close enough to land on our rooftop. It doesn’t leave, but continues to circle above. The pilot must be searching for someone. My imagination gets the best of me. I think about what it would feel like to be that someone. Or live in a country at war—fearful that your home may be attacked at any moment.

In the quiet of the night, I pray … for family, friends, strength, patience, wisdom, and direction.

And I listen for God’s voice. It’s in the quiet that I can most easily hear him.


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