Life is the Sum of All Your ChoicesJuly 6, 2011 No Comments
It’s been almost two months since I returned home. I am just now able to sit at my computer and write about the sum of my experiences walking in the shoes of the homeless and unemployed.
When I received the vision for the Walk a Week in Your Shoes campaign in 2009, I was a different person—spiritually wild and untamed, a spiritual adolescent. January 7, 2001, the first day of my now 10 years of sobriety, marked my spiritual rebirth. Motivated more by a need to stay sober than by my sincere desire to help others, I pursued a wide range of volunteer opportunities with the reckless abandon of a three-year-old child:
- coaching alcohol- and drug-addicted adults and teens through the recovery process;
- serving on the Board of Directors for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence;
- creating and teaching an afterschool creative writing/creative expression program for teens in an alternative school;
- coordinating activities for children in a homeless shelter so their parents could have time to regroup at the end of the day;
- serving as a judge for youth oratory contests;
- serving as a drama coach for Native American youth interested in pursuing acting;
- being a Big Sister with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America; and
- countless other assignments that I couldn’t complete because I was so over-scheduled.
My life was beginning again, unfolding for what seemed like the first time. Sobriety gave me a fresh start. I was like a toddler exploring a world of wonders and volunteering was my playground. Through the whirl of interactions with a wide range of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, I began to see life’s patterns and trends. I heard stories of abuse and neglect that made me thank God for not allowing the abuse I experienced to go that far. I witnessed poverty and challenging living conditions, which let me know that I was living a blessed life. I saw people hurting and unhappy—stuck in their past and held prisoner by an unwarranted sense of unworthiness. And 10 years later, as a result of these 29 weeks, I now feel the hurt and unhappiness unique to their plight.
Such a critical, necessary shift in professional perspective came at a personal price, however. I realized that my motivation to help others had changed. No longer driven by a need to stay sober, my preferred methods for giving sobered as well. I no longer desired to be the sacrificial lamb, the trailblazer, the most connected person in the community, superhuman. I wanted a quieter, more mellow, more subtle, less intense way to help. Mistakenly, I confused the desire for quieter—more mature, more strategic, more efficient—approach to my work with a desire for a quiet, completely uninvolved life. I didn’t realize that I was transitioning into spiritual adulthood.
Sitting in that small 8×12 transitional housing room, I started to resent the work I was doing—even though I still had a sincere desire to help and knew it would make a difference in the lives of millions of families. I wanted completely out of the game, even to the point of possibly folding International Freedom Coalition. Guilt filled every crevice of my being because I felt 100% certain that I was pursuing the work God called me to do. I just could not reconcile the emerging duality between the desire to embrace this new “human” self (with limits and parameters) while still being dedicated to following the well-known, unlimited spiritual self that has sustained and guided me over the last 10 years. I felt like I was betraying God, slapping him in the face. How could I feel like turning my back on God’s work after a decade of spiritual privilege and blessings? Many times, especially during the last months, I told God to keep it. “I cannot continue to work this way. I’m sorry. I can’t do it anymore. So, keep the spiritual privilege, the visions, the guidance, the advanced knowledge, the insider’s secrets because I can’t do your work anymore. This is too much for me. I don’t want to do it.” I could not hear God’s answer at the time. Gratefully, I can now.
God does not grant me spiritual privilege in exchange for service to his work. Spiritual privilege is his gift to me just as it is for anyone else who seeks him first. I mistakenly believed it was conditional—you serve me, Sapphire, and in exchange I will help you navigate life. No. Wrong. Just like any good parent, God loves and protects me unconditionally, whether I do his work or not. Understanding finally washed over me: I was never obligated to follow the calling. I consciously chose to allow God to develop my desire to help others. Somewhere, down the line, I lost sight of that. Resentment filled my being because I am not a person who thrives under a dictatorship.
This 29-week walk in the shoes of the homeless and unemployed was my opportunity to relearn how to walk spiritually with God. I ponder the comments people make about presidents after they have served their term(s) in office: “The presidency aged them,” they observe. Likewise, this experience “aged” me spiritually.
And this journey ends just as it began. At the end of Day One of the Walk, God placed a message on a billboard that read, “Life is the sum of all your choices.” As the Coalition moves forward with its documentary Human First: The New Face of Homelessness and other projects, I choose to pursue God’s work in a more mature, strategic, and efficient fashion. My spiritually wild days are over!
Opportunity to Celebrate
Obviously, we should all celebrate the roof over our heads and the nourishment we receive no matter how it is viewed by economic or social standards. Yet, how can you “celebrate” blessings if you are homeless, hungry, unemployed, and cannot provide for your family? How, as a citizen or community leader, have you honored the value in all individuals regardless of their economic status or living situation? I celebrate by giving praise to God for providing for my needs and then sharing that praise with others as I do with this blog.
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