grateful heart monday

I have a dream. (a Grateful Heart)

January 19, 2015
As I was flipping through the pages of Better Homes and Gardens last week (one of my favorite magazines), I caught notice of a small entry at the bottom of the page encouraging the reader to “share your time and talents on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.” Naturally, I was curious so I followed the mentioned link,, and before I knew it I was signing up for one of the volunteer opportunities in my area.

I have volunteered in various ways throughout my life but had never done so at an actual food bank, which is one of the reasons that’s what I ended up signing up for. There were a total of five of us at this specific location, apparently more than usual, so there were plenty of hands to help stock the boxes full of canned and boxed goods.

Here’s how it worked: a person or family, who had already signed up with this particular organization, was allotted three boxes of food every six months, with one “emergency” box within those same six months. There were sheets in front of each “bin” that told the volunteers how many cans of each good a family of one, two, three, four, etc. should receive. The person or family would check in at the front, someone on staff would come to the back room to give us the person’s “ticket” with the number of people and their last name, and then the person or family would drive or walk around to the back where we would hand them their box, or help them load it into the car.

The cans of food consisted of vegetables (a type of bean, corn, potatoes), fruit (fruit cocktail), Spaghettios, Spam, or Beans & Ham. There were jars of peanut butter, uncooked pasta, very few dairy items which could include yogurt or sometimes milk, and some other really random items like hot sauce, cake frosting, pickles, even dog food. There were few toiletry items, as well as diapers.

“We’ve got a walker,” I heard someone say, and immediately envisioned a zombie from Walking Dead (if you’ve never seen the show, that won’t make sense to you) until I realized they were referring to a man who would be carrying his food and walking back home. It had been raining all morning and we quickly began to look for all of the plastic bags we could find. As I packed the bags full of cans, I worried about how heavy these would be for him. There were four bags, full of cans and a gallon of Almond Milk (the last source of dairy left in the fridge). I watched one of the other volunteers hand the man the bags… he did not smile or make eye contact but simply said Thank you. I stood there at the door and watched him walk for quite a ways, stopping every so often to put the bags down on the ground to give his hands a rest. My heart was breaking. 

It was very different, being on “the front lines” of volunteering in my own town. I’d always been behind the scenes, or giving my time in another country and removed from what I knew as “home.” When you’re behind the scenes, it’s easier to give money or prepare packages for the people who need it. When you’re in another country, there’s somewhat of a relief knowing you’re going to go back home at some point… you won’t be faced with the heartbreak each day, to witness the struggle that so many experience every day. But to pack the boxes and then to see and meet these people face to face… the people who are my “neighbors” – wow. Giving does not always feel good… sometimes it does break the heart. But we are not called to give so that we feel good… it is not for our benefit, and in the times it does bring us joy? What a bonus that is. What a gift. But however it feels, I’m still so grateful that Jesus would call on me.

A woman at the organization (who had been volunteering at this particular place for 4 years) mentioned that sometimes you’d see people pull up in nice cars. She warned that it would be easy to judge them and wonder ‘why do you need this when you’re driving a car like that?’ but that it would be important to not judge. It’s not why were were there. We didn’t know that person’s story, and we really didn’t need to know it. And that’s not why I was there. Jesus had not called me to give once I’d deemed the person to truly be ‘in need.’ He instructed me to GIVE. Period.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? 

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:35-40 NIV)

When we cry out to Jesus, He doesn’t weigh or rate the severity of our situation. He doesn’t think, “Well, your situation isn’t that bad. Your neighbor is worse off than you are. You’ll be fine.” When we are in need and cry out to Him, He arrives in great love. No matter how “severe” we may rate our situation to be. And just as Jesus cares for us, He calls for us to care for each other.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

I have a dream that we don’t just acknowledge and talk about the needs of this world, but that we take action. I have a dream that we make the time. I have a dream that we continue to give, even when it hurts. I have a dream that we would be brave for the sake of others. I have a dream that we judge no more, and that we give for the mere fact that He calls us to give.

I’ll see you on “the front lines”,

In what ways is He calling you to give? What is your dream? 
What are you grateful for? 

Link up below and join the rest of us in starting each day this week with a grateful heart. Not enough time to write a Grateful Heart post today? No worries! This linkup will be open until Friday! 

1. Link up to your Grateful Heart post, not just your blog’s homepage, and please link your post back to Ember Grey (via link or GH button) so that others can link up too! *Any posts that do not have to do with this GH topic or those that do not link back up to this blog will be deleted. 

2. If you use #gratefulheart on Twitter, tag me and I will retweet! @embergreyblog

3. Carry on and be grateful! XO!
Grateful Heart w/ Ember Grey

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  • And that's what makes you even more beautiful….your willingness to lend a hand, to empathize, to encourage. So proud to call you my friend! XO

  • Love this. Needed this. Thank you. So much.

  • It is so important to remember that "giving does not always feel good – it can and does break your heart " but it is so necessary. Thank you!

  • I really love this post!! I have so many big dreams about ways I want to help. 🙂

  • What an amazing thing to do! It's so easy to say that you don't have time for things like this, but I think most of us can probably make the time if we really tried.

  • You are such a beautiful person, inside and out <3 I loved reading this post.

  • Katherine Lacabe

    I volunteered in one of those last year, it didn't end up working out (I wasn't able to go back) but it worked in much the same way that you described. Good for you for doing it!

  • This story. It tugs at my heart. I have been thinking about volunteering in our town, and now you've given me the final push to get going on it. Thank you.

  • I really enjoyed this. I volunteered for our food bank giving out a meal to the people in need and this man and wife came in that I usually encounter all the time at the video store and they are always so incredibly hateful at the video store. It was hard not to make a snap judgment, but you're right it is NOT our place to judge them…we are supposed to love them.

  • Awesome. Thank you for sharing the link to AllforGood. I'm going to sign up for something in my area. What a great idea!

    My favorite MLK quote:


  • Such an open honest look at giving. Though it's great to give, it's not always easy! I want to sign my five year old (and myself) to do something similar. I really admire you for this awesome act!

  • love this. what better way to spend the day… you have inspired me to volunteer soon {i used to so much more- and really need to focus on this again} i really enjoyed reading your article- wonderful job! <3

  • This is heart breaking but so beautiful as well. You are a wonderful human being. Taking time out of your day to help is so nice and its nice to know how much you care. Your heart is with these people

  • I got to spend a day helping out in a similar ministry like that when I was in New York City, and the church I grew up in did something similar to that as well. It is true you never know someone story just by looking at them, which is something I learned from my experience. When there were opportunities to do so, I enjoyed actually hearing their stories and praying with them, which was rare but cool when it happened. Serving doesn't always make you have a feel good feeling but it always changes me in some way or another.

  • 🙂 Makes me smile, thank you friend!! I feel the same!

  • XO, Nina 🙂

  • Thanks so much for this note, Sheryl 🙂

  • Thank you!! I love your new blog, Stephanie. So inspiring – my favorite kind of read 🙂

  • If I sat back and thought about all of the things I make time for, certainly I can make time for something like this. So true!

  • This means a lot, Julie. Thank you 🙂

  • I'm looking forward to doing some others… there is one opportunity that involves painting after-school buildings. I'm no painter but it sounds like a fun 4 hours 🙂

  • xo. I would love to get some friends together and start doing it more on a regular basis. First step: make friends in new home town. haha!

  • That was a big conversation with the other volunteers: making it mandatory for everyone to do it at least once in their life. (And then then convo turned into a political one and I quickly stepped outta that. haha!)

  • Breaks my heart! You just never know what people have been through or are going through.

  • That's my favorite MLK quote too!!

  • That would be such a special thing to experience together!

  • So glad, Nelle!! 🙂

  • aw, thank you, Kenji!

  • It's really important to me that the church I join be a part and actively involved in serving the community. I love that you prayed with them, Felecia!

  • Gosh, Emily. You are so beautiful through all that you are and all that you do! God bless you!

  • chall1018

    "We've got a walker," <<< My first thoughts were The Walking Dead, too! This post brought me to tears. My heart
    always aches and breaks when I see someone struggle. I want to help everyone, and wish so badly that I could. I’m going to look-up ways I can volunteer in my area. Thank you for inspiring me. You are a beautiful person with a beautiful soul, Emily!!

  • That means so much to me, Shayne! Thank you for your sweet words 🙂

  • I know it, Crystal! That's exactly how I feel too. Thank you for this note 🙂 xo