“We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.” ~Mary Dunbar
What is one eye-opening experience should everyone have?
I stumbled upon this question a few weeks ago and it got me into deep introspection.
The first thing that came to my mind made me feel both happy and sad. The smile faded as soon as it crossed my face.
Let me explain…
My Eye-Opening Experience
One eye-opening experience I had and believe everyone should have is spending time with poor kids.
I love children.
I’m one of those people who gets wowed when kids can count one to three or recite the alphabet by heart. I was a teacher, and the kids were my favorite students. I’ve met and played with a lot of kids, but my experience with poor kids was extra special.
In 2012, my friend invited me to visit some kids in a community that I had never heard of. I wasn’t from an affluent family, but I had never seen real poverty up close.
Tiny and crowded homes made with light materials, no electricity and/or running water for many families, and malnourished, sick, and dirty kids.
We visited them at least once a week to teach family values, spirituality, and hygiene. We fed them, played with them, and most importantly, we loved them. These were fifty to a hundred kids ages two to sixteen.
Our leader tasked me to interview ten kids in a span of ten months. The organization that sponsored our feeding program for two years required us to submit these reports monthly.
I had the privilege to choose which kid to interview per month. I chose kids with different personalities. The shy ones. The playful ones. And the wallflowers.
I will treasure those interviews forever. The one-on-one talks with these children were life-changing for me. They were the intimate encounters I looked forward to every month.
I got the rare chance to know their stories in a deep way.
It was heartbreaking to hear that some kids missed schools because they didn’t have food to eat. Some kids were made fun of because of how they looked. Others had to scavenge and collect recyclables in the streets to sell and help their families earn some money.
Despite the cold meals and floors, lack of basic needs, and other daily struggles, they had a sparkle in their eyes and sweetness in their smiles. Their resilience was so unbelievable that I had no doubt that one day, they will change the world.
Words are not enough to explain my thoughts and feelings through this experience. But this experience has given me a new set of lenses that allowed me to see the world in a different way.
I learned to be more generous, self-giving, loving, and compassionate. The words “gratitude” and “appreciation” became deeper and more meaningful. I learned to view this life beyond me.
This was my weekly routine for three years until…
I Had A Relapse
I stopped going and seeing these kids. Now, this is why the thought of this eye-opening experience gave me mixed emotions. You see, I’ve been fighting chronic illnesses for about ten years, but in 2016, my health took its turn for the worse.
My dizzy spells became more intense and frequent. I couldn’t stand the outdoors because it was either too hot or too cold for me. I was like a battery that wouldn’t charge up.
I’ve accepted that my doctors couldn’t give me straight answers (yet) on what has been going on with me. But it was frustrating when my world came to a halt. Again.
While my recovery has been consistent (slow and steady), I still don’t know if I can go back and serve these kids again. I don’t know if my body could still handle it.
In a way, I felt my chronic illness robbed my purpose and self-worth once again. I just wanted to serve. What’s wrong with that?
But one day, I thought that service to humanity takes different forms, shapes, and sizes. Nothing is too big or too small. As long as you give with all your heart.
I realized I could get around my chronic illness and still help make a difference one life at a time.
Nothing fancy. Nothing grand. Just me and my warm and sometimes wimpy heart.
Initially, I did this for myself. It was out of boredom, stress, and frustration.
When I was mostly homebound, I looked for a new hobby that would help me get out of my head and feel the excitement of trying something new again.
Affirmations, verses, quotes, and words of encouragement that spoke to me took me on a whole new level when I see them beautifully written in bouncy and flowy letters. Every stroke helped me focus, meditate, and relax. Even when the strokes were shaky, I was amused by the work of my hands.
When I became a little more confident, I decided to share my creations with the world. I set up a public IG account with the goal to edify women with chronic illness through modern calligraphy.
I also make notes for family and friends extra special with the beautiful and free strokes of modern calligraphy.
I may not be able to serve and spend time with dozens of kids all at the same time, and that’s okay. Changing one kid’s life would be more than enough.
Last year, I decided to sponsor one child through World Vision. It was another opportunity for me to have a personal connection with a child from a poor community.
It’s a humbling experience to help the child to pay for school supplies, uniform, and other expenses. Through this program, her community benefits, too.
My eyes and heart well up when I get their regular updates with photos, community reports, child’s progress, and more.
I’m introverted. I’ve kept a lot of my deepest thoughts to myself. Last year, I decided to be a little bolder and vulnerable by sharing my journey through writing.
I’ve realized that every story matters. Every story is special. Every story heals.
Most importantly, we can learn from each other.
You don’t need to do something huge to make a positive difference in the world. Regardless of your time, resources, and individual limitations, you can make an impact.
I encourage you to create a small service project before the year ends. Before that voice of doubt whispers that it’s impossible or it won’t make a dent in the world, let’s sit down and plan for this project.
Below, you will see a list of questions that serve as your starting point.
Skills/Talents/Passion: What can I offer?
1. What did I love to do as a child?
2. What types of things do family or friends usually seek my help for?
3. What are my interests?
4. When do I feel most joyful?
5. What do I do most naturally?
6. What is the idea or vision that keeps me up at night?
7. What am I doing when I feel the most authentic?
Time: When will I do it?
1. How much time can I set aside for this project?
2. How often do I want to do this?
3. How long can I do it?
4. When can I start?
Recipient: Who will I serve?
1. Where do I feel the happiest?
2. Who do I care about?
3. Who are the people going through what I’ve been through? Or going through similar challenges?
4. Who needs my skills and talents?
You may not know the answers to all of these questions right now, and that’s okay. Take all the time you need and go through them again whenever you can.
Small things add up. Small things make bigger things. Small things create ripples.
Start where you are with what you have.
About Mary Gutierrez
Mary is a chronic illness thriver and a natural healing advocate. She shares what has worked for her and her spoonie friends on her blog. She also created a safe space for people with chronic illness to share their deepest and darkest secrets anonymously. Check out the first issue here.