I definitely MEANT to write this post before Christmas. But I got completely wrapped up in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities with my family. Technically, it is still the Season to be thinking about our lives, reflecting on our blessings, and sharing what we can with those who are not as fortunate this year.
I think you know by now the last 4 months of my life were probably the most challenging months I have ever had to go through. The constant pressure to study for exams was too much for me at times. I failed to maintain any balance between my studies and everything else that would potentially bring me some balance and peace. The gym? Once a week, if I was feeling truly overwhelmed. Walking the dogs? Every other day. Cooking fresh healthy meals? Ha, right. It was a combination of these things in which I lacked balance that caused me to gain weight and feel like it was a perpetual rainy day in my head. It really truly broke me for a while. I felt inadequate and incapable. But throughout all of my personal struggling, I did have the love and support of my husband, family, friends, and classmates. Without them, I don't think I would have stayed int the program.
I'm sure it seems pathetic to be whining about my life, when really it is a very blessed one. I have a home, a husband who would do anything for me, family with nothing but encouragement for me, and friends who believed in my way more than I did in myself. I'm in a prestigious program that I am grateful to have been selected to be a part of, yet I whine. What really saved me from spiraling down that twisted path of self pity this fall were the times when I was given perspective.
And these opportunities to gain perspective couldn't have had better timing.
In October, which was probably the most difficult month of all of this fall madness, I was given the opportunity to volunteer at a Halloween Party at the Children's Hospital. I dressed in my Tony the Tiger costume, helped set up games and craft stations for the children, and waited. When the kids started to arrive to the party, perspective slammed me in the face like a brick. Here I was, crying over my stressful study schedule...when there are all of these sweet children faced with life threatening medical conditions. I felt like such a fool, and it warmed my heart to do my part to give them a holiday celebration. I painted faces, made crafts, and just talked and laughed with some of these kid. The fact they they were going through their current situation and still managed to keep smiling made me determined to be thankful for my life no matter how much stress I may face.
That volunteer opportunity could not have come for me at a better time. I needed a healthy dose of reality and perspective. My next dose of perspective came in November when I asked my husband what he wanted for his birthday (Dec 13th). He said he would not accept any material gifts this year, and that he wanted everyone who would normally give him a gift to instead donate to a charity of their choice. One that means something to each donor. You see, my husband is this incredibly selfless human who is much better than me at realizing there isn't a whole lot we actually need, so he wanted to be able to help out those truly in need this holiday season.
And what a success his birthday idea was! I chose to donate to Heifer International, one of my favorite charities of all time! If you've never heard of this organization - you should know about it! It's based on the idea that if you give a family in need something that can help them sustain themselves for years to come, that gift is more useful than a one time donation of food or money. The organization donates animals such as camels, water buffalo, cows, llamas, pigs, goat, sheep, rabbits, ducks, chickens, geese, and honeybees. Each animal makes a difference somewhere in the world, and the families that receive them make a promise that they will in turn give a gift of their own. When their gifted animal has offspring, they are supposed to give the offspring to a family in their community that they can see is in need. It is a beautiful cycle of continual gift-giving that has the potential to allow entire communities to thrive. To learn more, go to http://www.heifer.org/
For the other part of Tyler's gift, I donated to PetSmart Charities - an organization aimed at saving homeless puppies. That charity is meaningful to me because we adopted both of our puppies at PetSmart's Second Chance for Love adoption events, and it so important to me that this organization can continue to find puppies new homes. On a side note, our dog Penny became the Pet Adoption story of the month on their facebook page! It is so sweet :) To see her picture and adoption story, click here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/savehomelesspets. Proud mama!!!
For my family's birthday gifts to Tyler, they donated to a variety of organizations! They filled some shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child (gifts of toys, school supplies, and basic hygiene items are sent to children in need all across this world), donated to Adopt-A-Family (a local drive in our high school to gather supplies/food/toys for local families in need), as well as they donated to the Children's Hospital, an area of medicine near and dear to our hearts. To learn more about Operation Christmas Child, please visit http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC/ To donate to The Children's Hospital, please visit http://www.childrenscolorado.org/give/donate.aspx.
Tyler's parents bought a tricycle for Tyler, which we chose to donate to Toys For Tots. We're hoping it made someone's Christmas very very special :)
For one of our personal holiday donations this year, Tyler and I decided to donate to KLove, the local Christian radio station. We can't ever donate as much as we would like to, but I can't tell you how many times listening to KLove on the way to school helped me to at least start the day off on the right foot. It is such a positive way to start your day, so we wanted to express our appreciation to the station.
Volunteer work has always been a HUGE part of my life. Ever since junior high when I started working at local homeless shelters, doing Meals on Wheels, canned food drives, Habitat for Humanity, and many other projects. I have always found myself at peace when I am giving of myself so that others can have more of a chance at life. It is at once selfless and selfish, because while I am putting in my time and money, I get so much more in return. I have definitely been yearning for the opportunity to volunteer for SOMETHING, ANYTHING, and once school was finally over for the fall semester for us, we were finally able to do some hands on volunteer work at the Ronald McDonald House. For all the negative press McDonalds gets these days, I am at least thankful for their part in creating the Ronald McDonald Houses. If you are unfamiliar with what they do, you should definitely check out this link: http://rmhc.org/who-we-are/mission-and-vision/. Ronald McDonald Houses provide lodging and meals for families of children who are staying in hospitals. They also provide programs aimed at strengthening families during these most trying of times, which I think is a wonderful service! So anyway, last Monday Tyler, myself, and some of my PA School classmates went to our local Ronald McDonald house to cook and serve breakfast to the families staying there. It wasn't anything over the top, but it was nice feeling like we were chipping in. These families have to endure so much, and at least they don't have to worry about cooking and cleaning.
I am just so filled with love this time of year. Love for my family, love for my friends, and love for complete strangers who I don't know the first thing about, but whom I know need our love nonetheless. I hope as you count your blessings and your Christmas gifts you've received this year, that you take a minute to share something of yourself with people who need you. Be it a monetary donation or a volunteer activity, it will change your life as well as impact other lives.
Happy Holidays to you - I hope they continue to be very blessed!!!