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Gratitude conjures for me thoughts of words expressed and notes written. It’s always saying thank you. It’s being aware of what I have and how lucky/blessed/privileged I might be. But this weekend, as I served lunch to low income/homeless members of my community, I realized my gratitude needs to be more than an attitude or a string of words, it needs to be an action.

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I spent Saturday at a local Resource Center that provides food, clothes, and aid to low income or homeless people and families. I’ve been involved with the food planning efforts for a couple of months now, but Saturday was my first time actually serving at the center. I loved it. So much more than I thought possible.

I loved the people. Men, women, and children with big hearts, kind words, great humor, and loving actions. Staff helping guests, guests helping each other, and, at the end of the day, guests helping me clean and close up shop. So many diverse, wonderful people.

I loved the center. It’s old, rundown, looks more than sketchy, but inside this building is filled with physical manifestations of kindness and love. A side room filled with clothing, another contained canned foods guests could take home with them, a nurses station for those with medical needs, a shower, a small laundry room, and closets containing personal hygiene items that we often take for granted. A modest kitchen with a couple of side rooms filled with tables where guests ate, swapped stories, laughed, and–for perhaps a small moment in time–forgot about the needs waiting for them outside those doors. Or at least I hope they did.

I loved the micro expansion the opportunity brought to my world. I loved that all the judgments I brought with me fell to the linoleum floor and got swept away with the garbage by the time I left. I loved my heart responding to the need instead of my cynical nature responding to perceptions and situations. I loved how it changed me, made me realize that we’re all just part of one big human family. We all have needs, even if they differ from each other. Sometimes I get to be the one doing the giving. Most of the time, though, I feel that I am the one standing in line, waiting for the only meal of joy/help/inspiration/acceptance I’ve had in days, afraid of how the giver might judge me but grateful for whatever they share.

Our needs may look different on the outside, but inside we are all looking to be filled–mouths, hearts, minds and souls.

But what to do with all this love? How do I express my gratitude for what they taught me and how it changed me? Words don’t seem to be enough. Counting my blessings, while excellent to keep me grounded, doesn’t do justice to the emotions I feel inside.

For me, I’ve decided I need to make gratitude an action. It doesn’t have to be huge–there are so many worthy causes!–but I feel a need to show not tell (as they say in writing circles, hehe). So instead of mentally noting I’m grateful I have soap whenever I need it, I’m going to donate soap to the Center. The same with deodorant, razors, water, etc. My “count your blessings” list will become my shopping list, and my “thank yous” “to-dos”. My way thanking the universe for giving me so abundantly. I may not have millions like Bill Gates, but I can still make a difference to the man who needs a shower or the mom who needs a meal.

After Saturday, I can’t shake this need to say thank you with my actions as well as my words.

What do you think? What are some ways we can expand gratitude to include not only attitudes and words, but action as well?

P.S. It doesn’t have to be about money. I’d love your ideas on how we can show gratitude with our time/efforts and not just our finances!