Tag Archives: volunteer


Vulnerability as a gift

Every winter, my church participates in a rotating shelter program for people who are homeless; this year, thirty men are staying with us for a week.

Our parish school closed years ago, but for this one week, classrooms are converted into bedrooms, the gym into a cafeteria, and a large meeting room into a gathering space with televisions, games and snacks. It is an excellent example of repurposing.

I love the outpouring of generosity this program elicits, as parishioners step up to serve as hosts, prepare meals, provide transportation and do laundry. The planning for this week is spearheaded by one couple who start months in advance to make sure they have enough volunteers lined up to meet the needs of our guests this week.God-vulnerability-serviceMost nighttime shelters are set up for sleeping, and the people who are staying usually have to leave for the day. The rotating shelter program operates under the same rules, but holidays are the exception.

On New Year’s Day, I was one of four volunteers who spent the afternoon with our guests.

The day before, I was aware that our guests were arriving that evening. Throughout the day, I held the guests, organizers and volunteers in prayer. I was conscious of how blessed I am to have a home with heat—and to earn enough money to be able to pay my heating bills. All day, I thanked God for my blessings.God-vulnerability-serviceTwice in my life, I have been without a home and had to rely on the generosity of others to have a place to stay. Both times, I was humiliated and felt incredibly vulnerable; and I did not like it.

So being able to offer hospitality to others through this program is especially meaningful to me.

The afternoon started with lunch in the gym/cafeteria. Each table was decorated with a small bouquet of fresh flowers, creating a feeling of spring inside—in sharp contrast to the sub-zero temperatures outside. I sat with two other volunteers, and after we had finished eating, one of the guests came to our table and offered to clear away our dishes.

“Thank you,” we each said as he carried away our trays.

“I like to help,” he commented.

Being vulnerable and needing to rely on the generosity of others can create the sense of being a taker, of having little or nothing to offer. It took me a long time to understand the gift of vulnerability—the gift of seeing myself as being an opportunity for others to be generous.

My time as host on New Year’s Day included refilling water pitchers, replenishing snacks and helping guests with their medications. Last summer, I learned to play Euchre (a card game that is popular in Michigan), and I spent part of the afternoon in a Euchre game.

I can think of no better way to start the New Year than to put myself at the service of others, and also to be an opportunity for someone else to serve.



Through weakness to strength

“… sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” ~Jean Vanier

Safe spaces can be our comfort zones, those places that can give us a sense of control and security. Safe spaces can also describe the people we can trust with our deepest selves.

I recently read a book written by a friend about her volunteer work at a hospice. She wrote about some of the other people involved in the program—the Catholic sisters who ran the hospice, other volunteers and those who were dying. She wrote of the poverty of those dying, and she shared that this volunteer work had touched her and changed her.

What she did not describe, though, was what specifically had been touched in her by those who were dying—what inner poverty or brokenness connected with the poverty and brokenness of those who were dying.

Putting words to our wounds can be difficult, and it can make us feel vulnerable. We get plenty of practice saying, “I’m fine,” and much less practice admitting when we are not. Finding safe spaces where we can share openly and honestly can be a challenge.

As a young adult, I mistakenly shared my story with people who were not trustworthy and who used it against me. Then I retreated into my safe space where I shared with no one.

But at some point I realized that what I was calling a safe space was really just a place of fear, and staying there kept me from facing my wounds and allowing God’s love to heal me.

I was fortunate to find a therapist who helped me see that by staying locked in on myself I was neither safe nor free. I needed to step out of that space and start finding true safe spaces where I could name my weaknesses and difficulties.

Attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meetings helped a great deal. Sitting among others who had similar backgrounds created a foundation of trust. Once the foundation was established, trusting and sharing became easier.


Living in l’Arche helped, too. I had gone there thinking I was going to help others, but God showed me that I was called me there to receive help more than to give it. The invitation of the Beatitudes and of l’Arche was to reveal my poverty—to myself as much as to others—and be blessed by it. By acknowledging my weakness, I came to understand that I was totally dependent on God.

God continues to invite me into deeper relationship so I can know my broken places, hidden crevices that are awaiting God’s healing touch. That touch releases me from my fear of being judged and allows me to speak of my vulnerability.

Like my friend who wrote the book, I went to l’Arche to help others but realized I was the one who was to be helped. My brokenness is my blessing and allowing others to see it is my healing.