Friday, July 29, 2011

Love. Actually. Is All Around Us

Friendship.  Love. Purpose.  All these things are what create the world around us and make things pleasurable.  Why, then, do we not hold them in higher regard?  Why do we not see we are not alone, even when we feel the most alone?  Why do we cling to what is bad instead of good?  Losing faith in ourselves and others?

This week has been particularly difficult.  Aside from problems at work and in the day to day grind we all somehow create for ourselves, I then dealt with more than the average unforeseen problems in my week.  By mid week I was having trouble sleeping from stress and the feeling that I am stuck.  Stuck at a job I hate.  Stuck in a city, nay state, I wish not to be in.  Stuck in the grind of life that keeps me from the freedom to have fun. 

Just stuck. 

I confessed to a friend that I would not be able to attend an event we had been planning on for some time at the last minuet and then to another I had to decline a further invitation.  Understand, I wanted to attend, but life circumstances sometimes dictates our schedules.  I was shocked when one offered to help in a situation so that my life circumstance would not dictate my fun.  She left me a note, after my battle to accept her help that stated simply, “Just because I love you.”  I don’t like to cry, especially in public, so I was thrilled that I read the note at home, alone.  I literally broke down…which never happens. 

As I am sitting in my room, solitary and quite, processing what just happened, my kid brother (who is serving abroad) happened to IM me. He never had very good timing, but in this case, he out did himself.   He asked how I was, and as usual, I told him.  Not two minuets into my conversation we traded roles.  Usually, I have been the one to encourage him, hold him accountable and uplift him.  But that day, he did that for me.  He reminded me how loved I am, how appreciated and how much I effect other people’s lives for the good.  (I enjoy an accolade like the rest, but please don’t take this as tooting my own horn).  Then he said something I tend to forget, “Just because you don’t get to see everyone all the time, doesn’t mean they do not love you.  Sis, you are loved and one day God is going to open big doors for you and your talents and skills are going to make a big impact.”  When did he become the big brother? 

All this was going through my head when the following day a co-worker brought in a small treat from Starbucks, nothing fancy.  On the top of the carrier box she wrote, “Just because you are wonderful…enjoy a touch of happiness in your stressful day.”  Then today, my little niece called just to say she loves me and ask me to attend a show with her because “I want to be able to sit on your lap.” 

Funny how these little instances of love and friendship can do more than wonders for a soul.  The problems of the week and the struggles we fight through sometimes blind us to the love all around us.  Love really is all around us, whether we are married, in a relationship or single.  Why do we not open our eyes more?

I then thought that perhaps the reason we blind ourselves is because we look into ourselves instead of out towards others.  Our focus is so self centered we turn ourselves into arrogant prats with “Why me?” forever ingrained on our lips. 

The world is so lost and lonely because they have forgotten where to look and how to act.  We look into ourselves.  We act for ourselves.  We endeavor after our own desires.  No wonder the biggest complaint on Americans’ lips is not the economy but how lonely we are.  We are lonely because we do not invest (as I spoke about last week), but we are all the more depressed because we fail to recognize the small touches of love from others daily. 

This week I challenge you all to stop.  Breathe.  Enjoy the sunshine.  And at the end of the night, when you lay in bed going over the events of the day, as you recollect the sorrows, stresses, and inflictions others have placed upon you (as we all do whether we care to admit or not), make a list of all the good things, the small favors, kind words, touches of love that has blessed you throughout the day.  For every bad, I bet there are two good deeds done or words said.  Let’s start changing the world and those sad statistics by changing our focus from inward to outward, seeking the good and savoring those memories instead of clinging to the bad.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Investing Time: The Secret to Ending Lonliness

Ever feel like the world would keep spinning without you, but nothing would get accomplished without you either?  Sometimes I think I live in a world of contradictions, that I am a walking, talking contradiction. 

This past week I did not write as I was out of town playing the role of Maid of Honor to an old friend from college.  I purposely left my computer at home so I could enjoy the slow pace of what is Northern California.  I landed Thursday night with no plans (other than to fix a dress, which turned out needed no fixing), and enjoyed a quite night with my sister’s family and my mother. 

About an hour into my visit, when the hello’s and hi-ya’s ceased, and the baby was enjoying the new freedom of walking, I noticed my companions had pulled out their phones and were working.  I commented that I should pull my own phone out and play a game or something and was told my brother feels the same way, but that they were all still present in the moment, just getting work done.  All of them had work to do. 

Now, I am not saying doing work is not good, as I am the first to say I am a work-a-holic.  However, I have begun to learn that working does not necessarily mean productive, and that there is a time and a place.  At that moment, the selfish part of me, believed working was not the appropriate thing to be doing in my 48 hour turn around visit.  It felt nice to know my kid brother gets bothered by the same thing. 

I thought to myself that at that moment I could have, and should have, been working on an article for the paper, prepping for the auction for our combat human trafficking campaign, and probably over at the church helping with last minute decorations for the wedding the following day (not to mention writing a blog for my six adoring fans!)  But instead, I went up to visit with the intention of investing time with those I love.

Investing time…not spending time.  I felt at that moment I was spending time, shelling out hours. I know my family is excellent at multitasking (after all, they taught me), but I am learning that sometimes multitasking is not what is beneficial. 

My parents just bought this property in the country (literally, well water and no street lights).  I enjoyed the slow pace of the country, and harkened back to a time of simplicity, where books by the fire and conversation over the dinner table were the norm.  Not that I ever lived in that time.  But I thought we are missing something in this day of technology.

Sure, technology allowed my brother-in-law to come visit with me while he was on-call for work.  And technology keeps me in touch with those I love (and sometimes those I would prefer not to be in touch with).  But is this connection really making us more connected?  There is a higher divorce rate, depression and suicide in the age of technology that is suppose to connect us than at any other time in history.  The complaints of loneliness are astounding!  There is something to be said about remembering to stop SPENDING time with people and start INVESTING time with them. 

We invest our money into stock and bank accounts because it gives a higher return rate.  Why do we not carry that same principle into our relationships?  Aren’t relationships why we are on this earth, not money?  If we want a higher return, to feel connected, why not invest?  Why not pour into others instead of ourselves?  Why not listen more than we speak?  Why not comfort more than we complain?  Why not rejoice more than we than we wallow? 

We need to push ourselves to unplug and connect – face to face.  The best memories are made when we are present with each other, not over Facebook, e-mail, or Twitter (although I have an account for all of those).  The strongest connections are made when we turn off the tv, put our phones down, and enjoy the time with the people we are with, otherwise, why are we with them?  Let’s stop checking to see if we have a text message from someone just to prove we are not alone, when in fact, we are not. 

This week, I challenge all of you to turn your phones off when you come home and have dinner with your family, spouse, significant other, or friend, to fast from things like Facebook and Twitter, and enjoy the simplicity of friendship and familial relations as they were intended to be…fully present.  It is a present you will not want to return.    

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Paulo Coehlo, author of The Alchemist and my main man, Tweeted this week, “changes happen when we go against everything we’re used to doing.”  This got me thinking about another saying, “crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (or something along those lines).

Today I finished a car wash to raise money to combat human trafficking and it dawned on me how true those statements are, not just in our personal lives, but in our every day lives.  With wedding season having been kicked off yesterday night for me juxtaposed to the car wash today, the irony of Coehlo’s tweet has not escaped me.  

You see, I have been leading a campaign for nine months to raise $18,000 to provide an attorney to prosecute human trafficking violators.  Over the past months we have raised about one third of the money.  We have tried other fundraisers which have brought in some money, but this one was particularly interesting.

Every first Saturday of the month I get a bunch of youth together to do what we call Project Service.  We go out into the neighborhood or to church members and do odd jobs, or spring clean, one time we helped someone move, and in exchange we ask for nothing but some loose change.  Usually, we get much more than our loose change quota, most people tend to write a check.  I like this project because it teaches youth the true meaning of service while uniting our community’s multiple generations (something more communities need to do, in my opinion).

However, having done this a few months now, I have noticed fewer people needing help, or wanting to utilize the kids.  I know it has nothing to do with their service, as those who have utilized us have come back multiple times or raved and recommended us to others.  But we still are not getting the kind of response we had hoped.  So this Project Service we held a car wash instead…the response was almost overwhelming!  When we may just bring in $100 or so each service project, the response to this event was exponentially more than we had hoped.  

We all had to step out of our comfort zones to serve people in the hot sun, often fighting exhaustion and the uncanny ability of youth to want to move like molasses (a battle against time if you do not want water spots on your car).  Some of the kids had to do things they did not want to (like hold signs or Armarol tires), they had to go against what they were used to doing in a Project Service.  The outcome could not have been better. 

When I went to the wedding last night I found myself watching the bride with her family and realized that she and her new husband, though close to their families already, were going to have to expect changes.  They were going to have to try new things and figure out new holiday schedules. I then looked across the table and saw four couples sharing in a meal with me.  All friends.  As I watched them interact I realized they were all heading into a whirl wind of change, one moving across country, one getting married, one just starting a new job, and another dealing with the post-graduation now-what mentality.  

I thought to myself how silly we all are as kids thinking that life is never going to change, that things will always be as they always were.  Coehlo was right.  Changes happen when we go against everything we’re used to.  

You see, life may be, as Mr. Gump says, like a box of chocolates, but it is so much more than the chocolate covered macadamia nut.  For life is not the box, or even the chocolates, life is the reaction to the chocolate.  Do we run for cover when we get the nuts we are allergic to, or do we learn how to see and avoid them?  Do we show our dislike on our faces when a bitter dark chocolate comes up, or do we learn to appreciate even the bitterness?  

We cannot expect change to happen in our lives, to run towards our goals, to share them with people when we continue on the known path.  We cannot expect change to happen when we cling to the past and barely see the present.  We must learn from our past, taking that knowledge of what works and does not, and incorporate it into something much more magnificent than our past.  For it is our future that we run towards, leaving the past behind us, lest we weigh ourselves down. 

We cannot hope to move forward if we do not go against what we are used to, if we do not fight to break free from our comfort zones.  Change is life.  Therefore, we must set our goals, go against ourselves and fight through our comfort until we find that we are uncomfortable, for in that discomfort we find not only what we want, but who we are and what we are capable of accomplishing.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Shall Not Live In Vain

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

-          Emily Dickenson

When did we stop living like this?  When did we begin to say to ourselves, “It is not my problem” or “Sounds like a personal problem to me?”  When did we begin to shut our eyes to injustice and harden our hearts to mercy?  At what point do we stop ourselves and begin to see that one life is worth the making?

This week I talked to an old friend from college who had started to read my blog and thought I was unhappy in my singledom.  Let me squelch this for you all, for I am quite content with my singleness.  I love that I can live to my schedule and do and eat what I like to do and eat.  I enjoy getting to know who I am without the influence of others trying to pull me their direction.  I love the freedom.  I love the possibility.  But knowing this, I am not so na├»ve as to think a fulfilling life is lived alone.  For, as the great poet says, man is not an island, and I must add neither is woman (no matter how much we try to fool ourselves).

This conversation was juxtaposed to another I had with a friend whose family has been dealt what she thinks an injustice.  Her heart was breaking, and having watched my family go through a similar situation, my heart was hardened to her protest.  How cruel I was.  I took my arrogant stance and voiced my opinion, which was contrary to hers.  Unbeknownst to me, I offended her by “just being myself” (her words).  In her pain she inflicted pain on me, unbeknownst to her. 

This small injustice we did each other comingled with the idea of singledom and contentedness turned my mind toward grander things.  I thought of the poverty that runs rampant in America, which I can see even here in Orange County.  I thought of the 27 million humans trafficked every day into slavery in the $32 billion dollar sex and slave trade.  I thought of thousands of Muslims who have been poorly treated because of events they did not control.  I thought of the children in my friend’s classroom who are bullied by a broken hearted child. 

We are so blind and selfish. We see only what we want to see and do only what we want to do.  We react and seldom act, we fight for self-centered causes and act as conceited prats to most.  We believe that if we cannot see it, it must not exist.  When did we stop paying attention?  We did begin to believe that this ok? 

Last week I talked about guarding your heart, and contrary to my friend who thinks I am not content with my lot as a single, I think the guarding your heart is only part of the problem.  When we limit ourselves to our social order, or circle of friends, we limit our ability to meet angels and mend a broken hearted world.  There is so much potential for good in this world if only we will stop fooling ourselves into thinking we are good people and do good things.  We are nothing if we do not act, we have nothing if we do not love. 

I pray I leave a legacy like Ms. Dickenson’s poem.  I pray my legacy in one that mends the broken hearted, eases life’s aching for another, cools pain in another.  I pray that I see the end of the slave trade in America. I pray that I see the end of stony hearts brandishing their blessing in faces of the less fortunate. I pray that one day I will hear how thankful the rest of the world is for watching our model of humility, dignity, grace, and charity.  I pray that one day we will go back to our roots and remember that we are not now, nor ever will be, perfect.  And it is because of our imperfection we are able to empathize with those who suffer at the hands of the unjust. 

After all, as Edmund Burke reminds us, “All it takes for evil to prevail, is for a good man to do nothing.”  Remember that this Independence Day as you sit beneath those colorful fire works displayed in remembrance of the injustice we fought to become this great nation.  Remember as you sit with your friends and family around that BBQ what this holiday is truly about…justice prevailing against a greedy tyrant. Remember that so that those good and faithful will not have died in vain for our self centered arrogance.