Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When did I stop?

When I was in high school, my main goal in life was, "to make a difference." That's what I'd tell people. That idea carried on through high school, to college, and after college... for a while.

Recently, I feel like I've lost that. Not that I don't want to make a difference, because I do, definitely. But, I've stopped vocalizing it. I've stopped using it as a driving force.

I'm conflicted about that.

I didn't necessarily think I was doing big things when I was working on this goal. In high school, it was writing poetry, mainly, and sharing it with the world. I know it sounds totally strange, but man, I was popular when it came to the online poetry community. I was on boards and people were reading my work left and right, praising me, and telling me how much they could relate. I received so many thanks and comments on my webpage (now deceased, due to the collapse or whatever of geocities) that I was completely astonished with myself. I didn't think I was really good at writing, I just wrote because it's what I could do. It was an outlet. It was a release and hey, an avenue for my ever burning creative fire. I made friendships with my poetry, online, and offline too. Even after my mother read my poetry about my inner pain and got mad at me for writing it, I continued, because it seemed to mean something, not only to me, but to the world. I felt powerful.

After high school, I joined outreach groups and other activities in college. At Augustana, I did youth overnight lock-ins with the IXOYE outreach ministry. It was wonderful! We were sharing the love of the Lord with so many children. It inspired me to work at Shetek Lutheran Ministries the summer of 2003 as a camp counselor. I loved the work we were doing. I returned the next summer as a daycamp director, and took other staff along with me as we shared the Lord with children all across southwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota. I remember one camp where we re-wrote the Lord's prayer with the children, in their words. I still have my camp binders. I sang the love of the Lord with my guitar, for me, for staff, for children, for families. I felt I was really making a difference there, too.

I was an RA in college at Southwest MN State University two years later, and I was able to counsel and support freshmen students in our house as we went through some crazy situations. I allowed a random guy, who was drunk and drugged up, to grope and harass me for the protection of the students, and then work through it with them. I did everything I could for that house of students, everything they would let me. We formed some really great relationships, and it was really hard to say goodbye and get married that summer knowing I could never be an RA again.

During my junior and senior year, I worked at a Crisis Center in Marshall, doing supervised visitations. It was a relatively simple job most times, though it was always hard to pry children from their parents. But, I felt like I was making a difference, I was allowing these families to have time together that they wouldn't have otherwise.

My senior year of college, I took an internship at Western Community Action, and made it my mission to help combat the terror of poverty in our area. I loved it. I worked at the food shelf, basically running it, helping people have food. I helped run a free tax clinic where those who couldn't afford others to do their taxes could come and we would help. It was wonderful. I fell so in love with it that I applied to work there after graduation, and was hired. I then took on the food shelf, and started a group for girls, where they empowered themselves and learned leadership skills and other useful things. I ran a Big Buddies program in Redwood county (mentoring), and then my final project was to help form the Circles of Support program, where the community would come together on a regular basis, to relate, learn, lead by example, fight poverty, and form relationships, across all lines that are considered barriers (class, race, age, gender, etc.) I really felt I was doing something big.

During this time, I also volunteered at my other employment, the crisis center, as a Crisis Line advocate. The crisis line was a wonderful way to make a difference, with late night calls reporting rape, and I'd drive to hospitals to be an advocate for women who were going through perhaps the worst situation in their lives. I was there for suicidal callers. I was there for so much. They didn't always know me, but I was there. I was making a difference.

When I resigned from my WCA job and started as a preschool teacher, I felt important then too, not as important, but important. I mean really, I was educating young minds. Same goes for when I moved to Sioux Falls and started working in an infant room. But the impact didn't feel the same. I'm sure it's meaningful, but it just wasn't the same.

I sit here, raising my son, and am very, very proud of it. But at the same time, I don't feel like I'm making a difference like I hoped for, dreamed of, and wanted. I don't know why I feel that way. What did I actually mean when I told myself that? Was it to make a difference for countless people, or could it mean to make a difference in the life of one little boy sleeping on my bed? I don't know. I don't think there are clearly defined boundaries for my dream.

I think I just need to work on seeing the way things really are, and that I am still making a difference, just in a different way than I expected.

And who's to say I can't do something big, yet?


  1. YOU INSPIRE ME! So much, you have achieved so much since high school and in college. You helped people and saved there minds from somewhere where I have been. You are amazing Nicole. You have and will always be amazing. After Spencer grows a little more you can continue your superwoman ego :D

  2. Sam Hit the nail right on the head I'm so proud of you and the rest of you kids Enjoy Spencer while he's little time goes by faster than you can Imagine, It does'nt seem that long ago when you were born, now grown up and doing a wonder full job with your new family there is plenty of time yet for you to inspire and help people, I'm So Proud!!!

  3. Bravo for even wondering and questioning all this...most people nowadays slip into a catatonic passionless existence, never even realizing they let dreams and hopes fizzle into nothingness. The simple fact that you are wrestling with this and chewing on it is, to me, a sign that you will make a difference and do great things. It's important to you. Raising your son is one of the most important and biggest things you will do in your life. How you raise him and what you instill into him will one day help him either become President, another Mother Theresa (male, of course), or...passionless...he ultimately has the choice, but parents and how they raise their children does matter. You are a wonderful Mom and individual.

  4. One of the reasons that I am happier now is that I recognize that very few people are in a position to make huge changes. Sometimes changing the world is simply about being a good friend or family member, making our loved ones smile or.. rearing a child who becomes a good human being. I am much more content knowing that I am making a difference through a gentle ripple effect, because that is within my power, than fretting over all the things I'm not doing.