I have always genuinely struggled with not just volunteering itself but finding a heart for volunteering. Simply put, I have just never cared deeply enough. On the other side of the spectrum is my husband who will sit down and have a conversation with absolutely anyone, pray with them, give the shirt off his back to the man on the streets of Chicago or give our fancy dinner leftovers to the distraught woman sitting on a bench. And me? I cringe in discomfort.
I remember driving into Chicago through a “not so nice” neighborhood to visit my sister who is a student at the Chicago Master’s Commission. She spent the majority of her first year in the program serving at risk individuals on the streets of Chicago. As I pulled into the city that day, I remember saying out loud in the car to myself, “I just don’t get it. I just don’t care. It’s just not me.” And that was going to have to be okay.
Was that okay? Was I a bad person? My family and small group (with my lead) have always lightheartedly joked about how heartless I can be to things and situations outside of my own close knit circle. And I know that about myself. If I’m being honest, sometimes I’m skeptical, sometimes it’s just hard for me to process the reality of how raw and dark things are, or maybe I intentionally close myself off to that reality. I’m not sure yet.
All I know is that up until the spring of this year, I had no interest at getting involved, really in anything. One, I just didn’t know what I truly cared about. Two, I wasn’t sure if I trusted where my money or time would be going, and let’s be honest: both of those things are not things I just throw out the window for anyone or anything. Three, I didn’t know if anything would fit my personality, maybe that was just for people like my husband or my sister.
And then came Catalyst. I have always been aware of human trafficking both overseas and here in the U.S. thanks to my time as a student at Indiana Wesleyan University. That wasn’t something new to me. However, what was new to me was that there was a local organization here in Bloomington making a difference right here in our very own community. Not only does Catalyst serve survivors of human trafficking, but they also serve single moms across Central Illinois. Bonus, I was raised by a rock star single mama through my youth!
Two girls from my small group at Eastview Christian Church were first to reach out to Catalyst and see how they could get involved. They came back to our group one Thursday evening and shared a little more about the organization, Julie (the founder) and how they were in the process of finishing a home, in town, for survivors of human trafficking to live while they got back on their feet. It would be called Catalyst Farms. At this time, they needed help turning the garage into a boutique for the women that would eventually live at the house to shop for new clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. What was my first reaction? A little unsure. I wouldn’t say skeptical, but I definitely had a ton of questions, and so did a few of the other girls. So we scheduled a meeting with Julie at the Catalyst office to learn more and to bring our questions to the table.
I had so many questions. And then I sat at a table in the Catalyst office, next to Julie, and everything changed for me. Not only did Julie answer my questions with her words, but her gentle and confident, soft-spoken demeanor stirred my heart. I believed her. Not only that, but I believed in her. I got an honest, real glimpse of her heart and how deeply she cared and how prepared she was for what was in front of her. She shared story after story of how God had provided throughout this process, and there was no doubt that He did or would continue to do so. She challenged my faith, and she didn’t even know it. Note: Add more people like this to your life.
Julie eventually departed, and the girls and I sat at that table for what felt like eternity talking, dreaming up ideas. We literally felt like Jesus was at the table with us, stirring our hearts. Now, I want to be clear: despite the overwhelming experience I had that evening, I did not leave there wrapped in emotion and all gung-ho to get involved in every way that I could. There was a Run to Rescue 5K coming up (first off, I don’t run), they needed help at Catalyst Farms, they needed donations, etc. However, I left there simply knowing I wanted to be involved in the garage, and if that’s all this was or ever would be, that was okay. I think that’s one mistake we make when trying to get involved in volunteering, we think being involved means in every facet. Pick one thing, one little thing (which in turn to a cause like this is a huge thing) that you know you’ll genuinely enjoy and/or be good at and do that. Let God work on your heart through that one area, and see where He leads you from there.
I started moving items out of a garage and somehow became the main lead on the project. I’ve scraped, sanded, painted, killed more bugs than I ever thought I had the courage for, moved furniture, painted furniture, helped pick out flooring, coordinated volunteers, furnished the space, gathered, sorted and washed clothing donations, and so much more. I can tell you now, I had no plans of doing any of that. I was just excited to help pin boutique ideas on Pinterest and look what God did to my heart. It grew three sizes somewhere between dead spiders and spray painted furniture. He had so many more plans. I just needed to be willing and not bite off more than I could chew as I started. I also needed the right people (my small group and Julie), the right cause (Catalyst), in the right place (Bloomington) at the right time (now). Not a person, place or moment different than that.
I have so much more to share with you about my volunteer journey, specifically about seeing God’s people come together for a greater purpose and how volunteering with the boutique has led me here, sharing my experience with all of you. I also look forward to sharing an update on the garage beautification project as we finish up. Thank you for following along.