When I think about the fact that God put a dream in my heart to start a non-profit in 2009, I never thought it would actually happen. I didn’t even know how it would all play out. Originally I thought it would happen specifically in Austin, TX for no other reason than that's the city I wanted to live in. Despite that the dream took on a different shape as time went on, I felt like I had found the magic bullet and it was definitely worth pursuing. Serving the poor made me a better person and a better follower of Christ, and I believed the change it had in me could happen in others if I helped to equip them with ways to do it.
Through God’s prompting I started serving people in poverty abroad and in my cities, first Dallas and later Fort Worth. What I discovered about serving is that I felt like I was taking a breath of fresh air for the first time in my life. A deep sigh of relief. You see prior to this I was running on the treadmill of "ME" and it was exhausting. I made everything about me and my wants and my needs, even in the context of my faith. "God why did this happen to ME? Why can't this one thing happen for ME?" Feeding the "ME Monster" always makes sense in the moment, but it left me feeling tired and dissatisfied. Some realizations are like a sunrise that happen over time, others are like a light bulb that goes off. For me serving others initially felt like a light bulb realization..."Oh yeah, it's NOT all about ME". Wow! Who knew? My perspective was off and my world view was warped. I had on blinders that kept me tossing around with every shift and change of circumstance. Fear, disappointment, and worry all beckoning my energy, thoughts and emotions. Then in the most unlikely place I felt this wave of relief as I was stripped of comfort on a summer long trip to West Africa. “Oh yeah,” I thought, “the world is bigger than me and people with real problems are content with far less.” It wasn't motivation by guilt, but rather a widening of my lenses in which I viewed the world and those around me. Like removing condensation from a bathroom mirror after a hot shower. You suddenly see more clearly. Then it was a close Palestinian friend in college, after that it was other international students who felt estranged in our American culture. Later on it was refugees who I taught ESL to or the Eritrean family Jamey and I hung out with on Sunday nights and invited to our home. Then it was befriending the homeless and having breakfast with them each week and so on and so on.
Did any of this ever feel "natural" to me or a gift I was born with? No! Rarely while serving others have I felt like doing so was easy, however it has always felt right. Does that make sense? Like working out at the gym is not easy or fun for most but you usually don't kick yourself afterwards and think "Now why did I waste my time doing that?" Netflix binges, junk food and fights with your spouse, all easily regrettable. Serving the poor and and denying your inner ME-Monster always leaves you feeling fulfilled because selfishness feels gross at its core. Am I saying that I am now a humble selfless person and I invite everyone to join me on this path of perfection? No way. The same way I don't have the abs I once did when I was working out every day is the same way I have to wake up and choose to serve my city. I make an effort to combat my desire to make every waking moment about me, because it gives me life and joy that I would otherwise focus on myself. It's a choice, something when done, I usually do not regret.
So that's my magic bullet. It's why I love to serve and teach others to serve. I believe that there's value in doing hard things and that selflessness and a heart to serve the marginalized is something worth pursuing, even though it doesn't come natural to me. For me it's the oxygen mask on the airplane that drops down when you need it most. Doing so has changed my trajectory in life, the way I spend my time, the way I will raise my kids and the way my family will see this world. Do you need a break from yourself? If so, find some folks in need, sacrifice, create margin, meet that need, do it consistently and let me know if you regret it. I doubt you will. It may just be your magic bullet too.