4 Keys to Avoiding Volunteer Burnout

I was very honored that Mandi at Organizing Your Way asked me write a post in her series this month “More Than Resolutions.”

31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Volunteer More

And then I read the topic that she wanted me to post on—“Volunteer More”—and I almost laughed out loud. I probably guffawed. Because I don’t think of myself as a big volunteer. And that’s because I’m not. But I accepted anyway. “Why?” you’re probably wondering.

I suppose if you count how much I volunteered in 2008, and compare that to 2009, then my volunteering efforts increased dramatically—they went from zero to one!

See, I totally dropped off the map from 2007-2009, after the stillbirth of our daughter at 39 weeks gestation. All organized volunteering was completely off the table. We spent the entirety of 2007 & 2008 surviving (and having another baby—a son—born 11 months to the day after his sister).

I spent 2007 and 2008 being the recipient of peoples’ volunteering: meals, cleaning my house, babysitting my kids. I can’t even begin to communicate how thankful I was and am for people volunteering for me. It’s humbling.

In 2009, however, I was given the opportunity to serve and volunteer. Because of my blogging, I was asked to participate in one of Compassion International’s blogger trips to see their work and write about it. So I guess that leads me to my first point about volunteering:

1. Do Something That Interests You

I love kids. I love working with kids (I’m a pediatric speech language pathologist). I love blogging. I love travel. I love the thought of children being released from the grip of poverty. So many of my interests and passions came together on this trip!

If you get asked to volunteer in the kitchen at your kids’ school and you HATE being in the kitchen, maybe you should ask for a different opportunity. Chances are there are other things to do. (There’s always work for a willing volunteer.) If you make your interests known, you’ll probably end up doing something you actually like and will therefore thrive in, instead of dreading.

Of course there are times when you kinda have to die to yourself and just do the thing that needs to be done. I’m not saying we should turn our noses up at things we don’t like or things that aren’t glamorous. There’s always going to be jobs that no one wants to do, and sometimes we should accept those. Sometimes there will even be joy in doing the things we didn’t think we liked doing.

But for any ongoing, long-term volunteer work that you’d be expected to care about…probably something that interests you would be best.

2. Do Something Possible

All of us have to figure out what works for us and our families. The Compassion trip I took was only 5 days long. It fit nicely into our family schedule without disrupting too much. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gone if it had been a longer trip; it just meant that fewer things had to be juggled around, and that made the trip feel more possible for me and my family.

Also, I already had a blog. And I was pretty sure I could write a decent post for what they were doing. It would’ve been silly of me to accept an offer to do something outside of my skill set, like be the tech support for the trip. That, my friends, would’ve been a disaster, an epic FAIL.

If you’re horrible with numbers, don’t volunteer for an accounting opportunity. That would be really silly, right? But that’s often how we respond when we hear about those gaping volunteer opportunities. We talk ourselves (or let others talk us) into jobs that don’t match up with what we can actually do, just because the need exists.

3. Pace Yourself

If you’re already an exhausted, overwhelmed mother of young children, you probably feel like you have very little margin in your life to be giving much more (because you’re giving all day long). Maybe you only have one hour once a month—that’s honestly what’s possible for you. Be okay with that. Be willing to give more when you’re in a season for giving more.

Perhaps for some of you, this is the year of more time, more margin, more availability. Be on the lookout for what you can do with that time!

If we try to do the impossible in volunteering and overextend ourselves, not only will we overwhelmed and rue the day we ever thought that volunteering was a good idea, but we’ll burn out and be of no use for an even longer period of time. (Because you’ll probably swear off of volunteering all together!)

For me, at the end of 2009, I was finally willing and able to step into a volunteer role again. I wanted to be there. I felt ready to be there. And I did one thing in 2009. And it was an awesome, life-changing one thing.

4. Volunteer Under the Radar

You can give of yourself in a million ways every day. Just because you’re not signing up for a regular slot on a schedule with a specific company or organization, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

Be your own organization!

  • If you love making meals for new moms, be that person that shows up six weeks after all the other organized meals have stopped coming and bless someone’s socks off!
  • Be the person who secretly drops off flowers for someone who just lost a loved one.
  • Show up randomly for the graveyard shift in the hospital room, giving the parents of a sick child a chance to go shower and sleep in their own home.

When I was in my darkest hours of need, this type of kindness was exactly the kind of volunteering that saved my life.

I think it’s right and good for all of us to have volunteering in our minds at the beginning of 2010. Who knows what that will look like come February or May or September? For some, you will have jumped in with both feet and be volunteering to your heart’s content. For some, you’ll still be looking for just the right thing. To be honest, I don’t have a plan for how I’ll volunteer in 2010. I just know I want to be open and available when opportunities come my way. I’ll say no to some and yes to others.

But I do know that I’m more likely to accept an opportunity if I get a chance to use my interests in a way that feels possible, and at a pace I can handle.

*               *               *

I’d love it if you read about my trip to El Salvador with Compassion. And, more importantly, I’d love it if you sponsored a child. 2010 is your year!

January 15, 2010 at 4:40 am 8 comments

Want to participate with me in a grief study?

I just signed up for a scientific study about traumatic loss. Here’s the description from their site:

We are a team of researchers from Arizona State University,  University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Austin College. We are exploring the experiences of those aged 18 and older who have experienced traumatic loss and bereavement.  The purpose of this study is to determine the individual, familial, and societal effects of trauma and to improve standards of care to the bereaved and a model of compassionate caregiving and intervention that fosters resiliency at every level.

The lead researcher for the study is Dr. Joanne Cacciatore. Here’s how I know about her:

The first book I read after Felicity died was one called Stillborn: The Invisible Death by John DeFrain et. al., researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They did a study back in the 80s and published it in book form. It’s mostly stories of peoples’ experiences with stillbirth. It was deeply helpful for me just to read that other people had gone through what I had.

Then, I emailed Dr. DeFrain because the book was out of print. He so politely and sensitively emailed me back and suggested I look into the MISS Foundation, the organization founded by his former doctoral student, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, who had also lost a child.

I really appreciate her continued research into the topic of stillbirth and traumatic loss. I thought, since so many of us here have lost children traumatically, we should contribute. We can be a means of further research into this painful, under-studied area by sharing our time and our stories to help others.

So here’s what you do:

  • Go to http://tearstudy.org .
  • Enter your name and email.
  • They’ll send you an email right away, and then you just click the link in the email to confirm your email address.
  • Wait for them to email you with further details.

I say, let’s do this!

January 13, 2010 at 11:01 am 10 comments

A Poem For the Grievers Out There

A fellow grieving mother sent me this poem the other day. Her son is buried very near to my Felicity. I visit him each time I go.

I know I haven’t written much about how I’m doing, grief-wise, in awhile. But it’s there, always, and some of it too deep, too painful to share here. Maybe I’ll get there someday.

In the meantime, you can read something that just recently made me cry tears of longing and joy and pain, all at the same time.

Resignation
from The Seaside and the Fireside

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(1807-1882)


There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there!
There is no fireside, howsoe’er defended,
But has one vacant chair!

The air is full of farewells to the dying,
And mournings for the dead;
The heart of Rachel, for her children crying,
Will not be comforted!

Let us be patient!  These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.

We see but dimly through the mists and vapors;
Amid these earthly damps
What seem to us but sad, funereal tapers
May be heaven’s distant lamps.

There is no Death!  What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.

She is not dead,–the child of our affection,–
But gone unto that school
Where she no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.

In that great cloister’s stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin’s pollution,
She lives, whom we call dead.

Day after day we think what she is doing
In those bright realms of air;
Year after year, her tender steps pursuing,
Behold her grown more fair.

Thus do we walk with her, and keep unbroken
The bond which nature gives,
Thinking that our remembrance, though unspoken,
May reach her where she lives.

Not as a child shall we again behold her;
For when with raptures wild
In our embraces we again enfold her,
She will not be a child;

But a fair maiden, in her Father’s mansion,
Clothed with celestial grace;
And beautiful with all the soul’s expansion
Shall we behold her face.

And though at times impetuous with emotion
And anguish long suppressed,
The swelling heart heaves moaning like the ocean,
That cannot be at rest,–

We will be patient, and assuage the feeling
We may not wholly stay;
By silence sanctifying, not concealing,
The grief that must have way.

January 10, 2010 at 7:53 pm 18 comments

HELP! HELP! I think I’m stuck back in 2009…

I know I’ve completely dropped off the map in 2010…

I know you’ve been wondering if:

  • I ate so much holiday food that I’ve literally popped and vaporized?
  • I got trampled when some post-holiday shopping madness went terribly wrong?
  • There was some horrible glitch in the matrix and I’m frantically banging on the window of 2010, stuck on the other side, in 2009?

Truthfully, it feels like I’m stuck a few days behind, just waiting for the energy to officially enter into 2010.

Someone call Keanu.

January 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm 12 comments

You are warmly invited into my parents’ living room in Erie, Pennsylvania for…

Orison’s Christmas Concert 2009

It’s a little long, but trust me, this is the short version. The original was over 30 minutes long! The kid just wouldn’t stop singing!

So, hunker down with a mug of hot chocolate and enjoy! But drink at your own risk, because there are some laughs that might send it out your nose. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! I don’t want any Christmas lawsuits because of your burnt nasal passages….

Or, if you need to get dinner ready this evening, get your church clothes ironed, or get some last-minute gifts wrapped, plop your kids in front of the computer for ten minutes of family-friendly holiday entertainment! Just my little gift to you….

And for those of you who hang out until the end, Morrow makes an appearance as a Christmas dancer! He goes absolutely nuts anytime he hears Jingle Bells!

This is our joy-filled way of saying to all of you: Merry Christmas from The Pipers!

December 24, 2009 at 3:09 pm 41 comments

A Family Tree for Christmas, Part 3: Including Felicity

Our Christmas tree decorating process has morphed and evolved over the years. Now it includes shedding tears for our family member who’s not with us, prancing around the Christmas tree and getting into trouble.

Our daughter has been with Jesus for three Christmases now.

Most people who’ve ever lost someone they love will tell you that the holidays are particularly hard. So, for people to have the foresight to give these ornaments to us back in 2007… let’s just say, I’m deeply thankful.

We’ve done it differently every year, but this year, the Felicity ornaments were the last to go on the tree. And since there were three, Abraham, Orison, and I all chose the one we’d like to hang.

I don’t want to make our tree a Felicity tree, I just want her there. These three little ornaments are very special to us.

If you’ve ever wondered what to get for someone who has lost a child, I would highly recommend an ornament. That way, it’s not another item they have to find a place for year-round, but when Christmas comes, there’s a ready-made place for remembering.

Our tree isn’t fancy. It’s not pristine. But it’s ours. It’s our family tree.

December 23, 2009 at 1:03 pm 10 comments

A Family Tree for Christmas, Part 2: The Angel’s Story

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

-Luke 2:9

This, my friends is our angel.

I know… she’s filling you with fear right now.

I know… it’s weird. But to us, it’s hilarious. And now… it’s just tradition.

You can’t see too well against the pink bow backdrop, but the angel has some pink netting for wings. And of course, her cotton candy hair.

“What is the deal?” you might be asking. Well, this is an art project my husband did when he was little. And for our first married Christmas, my mother-in-law bequeathed us the box of ornaments she’d been collecting for each of her kids. (Which was a very good thing, because we had neither Christmas decorations nor money to go buy them.)

Abraham’s family grew up not doing Christmas trees (they did a Bethlehem Tree instead). I grew up going out into the field and chopping one down as a family. So the first Christmas we were married, Abraham just didn’t understand why I would want a Christmas tree so much.

But one night, he dropped me off to do some grocery shopping, and said he needed to go run some errands of his own (we shared a car then, and still do). At our set meeting time, he picked me up, but when I looked around for evidence of his so-called errands, I couldn’t find any.

As we got home, we came up the back stairs to our second-floor duplex apartment and started unloading groceries. A few minutes into it, the doorbell rang, and he told me, “Why don’t you go get that?” I remember being kind of annoyed, thinking, “Well, why don’t you?”

But somehow he convinced me and I walked toward the front of our apartment. As I walked into the dining room, there it was…

A Christmas tree, standing tall and proud.

I screamed and hugged him and screamed some more and hugged him. (Oh, and then I got the door.)

It was one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received. So surprising, so unexpected, so thoughtful.

Thanks to Abraham’s mother we actually had some things to put on the tree. But what would we do about the topper? We didn’t have a star (which is what my family always did), and we didn’t have a proper angel.

At some point during my lament about the sad state of our tree and it’s lack of crowning glory, Abraham jokingly placed the little drag queen angel from his childhood at the top. We had a good laugh about it, and decided she should stay.

And she’s assumed the same post for all our Christmases since.

What’s the weirdest thing on your Christmas tree?

December 14, 2009 at 10:47 pm 36 comments

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