Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Lesson For Today

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.
-Thomas Sowell 

The impacts of our actions are often lost on us. 

The way that I see it, it's a limited perspective issue. We are only able to see our actions in light of how other people's actions affect us. We emulate the actions that we think would cause a desired reaction in someone based on what would cause the same reaction in us. For example, if I want to tick off my sister, I do something that would really get my goat. Or if I want to make someone's day, I show up with flowers, because that would be something that would really make me feel loved. We act based on our own ideas. 

But there is a whole gamut of things that people experience when we act that we don't even see. They translate our actions in their own perspective. Whatever they think is nice or harsh or wonderful peppers their understanding of whatever it is we've done. They then retaliate in their own way... you get the idea. 

The longer that we get to know people, however, the more we start to understand their thinking. We start to see their perspective outside of our own. If you don't believe me, try playing apples to apples with people that you know really well. It's a totally different (and better) game then it is with strangers. We learn to emulate how others think. This sort of skill makes us great gift givers- we are able to consider what the other person really wants, and therefore, we can work accordingly. 

Still, today I was reminded that our actions impact many around us- not just those who know us and know where we come from, or that we know well enough to understand the meaning of our actions. 

One of the women who often comes into the place where I work dropped off a little token of thanks for me and some of the other's who have helped her in this year. I was a little taken back by the gesture, because the only thing I've really ever done for her is stopped to say hi when I see her in our store. She's a sweet person with a great heart, and she always asks about my sister, whom she also knows, and so I make it a point to say hello and wish her well whenever possible. And even that small token of nothingness that I never really considered anything at all made enough of an impact on her that she remembered me. 

Later on, I saw her again, and thanked her. She told me that she just wanted to appreciate how even though I don't do work that often directly impacts her, she sees me go out of my way to be friendly and ask about her. That little thing to me, that I didn't even think twice about, made her feel very cared about. 

Little did she know what her gesture did for me on a dreary New Years Eve. Today started out a little rough. I was not having a good hair day. Some recent asthma issues (which do not help with sleeping) have turned into a small but still-unfun case of bronchitis. Our work load was a little ridiculous for a holiday when I got to my desk. And the worst was just before my little gift arrived; I had been screamed about by an angry person on the phone who did not like the answer that I had given him. I was very much looking forward to the solitude that going home was going to offer. I wanted a break from people. 

But her actions caused me to pause- they reminded me that sometimes things are not so absolute. They reminded me that my screaming customer may not have seen his behavior as hurtful, because to him it didn't seem personal. And mostly, they reminded me that not all people should be lumped into the uncharitable feelings I had based on that one interaction. 

And she thought she was just doing something nice for someone who always smiled at her...

I'm not big on New Years. I think every day should be a new beginning. After all, even the bible tells us that each day has new worries of it's own. But I think each one also holds a lesson, and today's lesson was that everyone reads things differently.  We have to value that all that we do is held in someone's eyes with great meaning. We have a purpose to someone, at all times. It's a great challenge to be our best at all times so that all may see us well. 

It's a good thought to start tomorrow, and a great one to think through while the rest of the world celebrates a new year.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jesus.. the billboard.

If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.
-Emile Zola 

I spent a good part of the early afternoon today staring out the window of an Amtrak train, listening to some of my favorite music and allowing my mind to wander wherever it wanted to go. Most of the scenery was pretty static- trees and fields and water; pretty, but less than thought provoking. And then suddenly, down the tracks, there was a billboard. In bright red letters, it shouted one word- JESUS. Beneath, there was some very tiny writing and a drawing of a house that I couldn't quite make out as the train raced by.

The billboard broke me out of whatever mental cloud I was on. I couldn't help but wonder what the sign was trying to say. I suppose it was meant to represent the big man Himself, that the creators of the billboard felt that just by seeing the name, people would be touched and changed. But surely proclaiming from the mountaintops requires a little more work, doesn't it? After all, most people do not question the existence of Jesus- they believe in His life, and even His crucifixion- it's the claims of messiahship that really throw people off kilter.

It got me wondering what we are actually saying to people when we tell them that we believe in Jesus. Much of the population in America considers themselves to be christians. They know the story of Jesus (sort of), but it doesn't affect much of their every day lives. To some it means church on Christmas and Easter, or wakes when there is a death in the family. To others it is a religion that their parents took part in when they were younger. To even others, Jesus is just one of the teachers who had the right idea- peace and love and all that stuff. But while many know of Jesus, not as many actually know Jesus.

I am usually pretty forward about how I believe. I find it to be a bit of a conversation starter sometimes, and other times, an explanation for a behavior or idea that I hold. But I have to wonder if people really know what I mean when I refer to my faith. Do they understand that my life has been transformed by truth? Do they know that I actually mentally ask myself what Jesus would want me to do when I have to make decisions? Do they know that I pray? Do they know that I memorize the bible and quote it back to myself in times of trouble because it's actually comforting to me?

Most importantly, do they know that is the most important thing that I am?

Faith without works is dead- this we know. It's not that salvation requires our action; it's the need for a savior because we could never live up that shows us where Jesus fits in the first place. It's that we have to show Him to a world that doesn't really know Him. They maybe know His name. But it isn't enough.

 I want to be more than a billboard with just a word on it. I want to be a whole picture of the transformation and joy that comes with being forgiven, and I want other people to see it and wonder how they too can feel the same. I want to spark controversy by what I have to say, to be thought provoking, and to make Jesus known through who I am.

And I want to mindful of this picture I am at all times.  So that I might cause people to ponder through their own beliefs and wonder about how Jesus might change them. Not just to those I know, but to everyone who passes me as they speed by on their own journey through life.

For me, it seems, the billboard served a great purpose after all.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trust Or Preservation

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

I'd like to propose an experiment. I think we should plant two actors in NYC as homeless people. Let's give one a sign that says "Need money for food" and another a sign that says "Need money for beer" and see who makes more. As much as I hate to admit this, my money is on the beer guy. Literally. I am more likely to give money to a cause I totally understand than one that I am skeptical of, even if the first has more potential for good.

We are a people who do not like to feel deceived. We appreciate honesty because we live in a fear that we are constantly being lied to. We don't believe people more often than we do. If they tell us about something incredible that happened to them, we doubt. When they tell us things that seem a little outlandish, we laugh them off. When they compliment us and say something that we aren't sure we believe about ourselves, we throw it away, believing that they are merely speaking flattery or out of obligation.

And when someone says something blunt to us, we categorize their words as "refreshing".

Maybe it dates back to childhood. Or maybe it's a deep issue of insecurity. I don't really know what causes us to wonder if people are ever honest. Or worse, to assume that they are not. But we are guilty of it all the time.

We are a people of trust issues.

In a self portrait, I would love to paint myself as the type of person who has compassion. But how can we have compassion if we do not trust people? How can we feel true and sincere empathy for the struggles of someone's life if we don't think that the things they tell us are true? If someone paints a picture of a life event, but we think it to be exaggerated, how can we really feel for them and what they went through?

I suppose this is why the emphasis on integrity and genuineness are so relevant. In building up a soulful relationship, we need to be able to believe and to see and to love, and we cannot do that properly when we cannot hear each story with the innocence of a child.

I'd like to blame this problem on the people that are dishonest, but I must be honest here- in the cases in my life where this is true, I'm pretty sure the problem is not those who have lied, have broken my trust, have told a tall tale or two. The problem is me. I doubt because I have been hurt by the lies of others in the past. And I don't trust myself not to make the poor judgement call of befriending a liar again. So I give no one the benefit of the doubt. It's an internal struggle, the way I see it. We can never be truly close to someone, even the most genuine of people, if we don't learn to let ourselves believe. To hope for the best and not worry about the rest. To give to the person who might actually need food before the person who has found that perception is reality. We cannot truly give of ourselves before we give up our issues with pretenses.

Maybe this is why self-preservation is so lonely.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Change in Perspective

You must understand that seeing is believing, but also know that believing is seeing.
-Denis Waitley

Watching the news does nothing but depress me.

Today's edition on every station covered a local story where a man was shot to death during a car-jacking. Evidence suggests that the man struggled with the carjackers before being shot. The events leading up to his death include him walking around his car to open the door for his wife and help her in. It is plausible to believe that his struggle with the attackers was more about a concern for her safety than for his car.

We will never know his intentions. But still, I have grieved for him today. I have listened to those around me clucked and chatted about these events, and have heard countless iterations of "It's just getting worse and worse," and "what a horrible world we live in," and "There are some terrible people out there."

And it's heartbreaking.

I get really caught up in these tragedies- not just for the loss of life, but for the people have lost just a little more faith in humanity. I used to have a very hard time seeing the good in the world, because there was so much negativity that surrounded us all. There is a media theory that suggests that because we have access to so many horrific news story, we live our lives with more fear than necessary. For example, we have seen so many stories of women walking alone in big cities and getting mugged that we believe that its inevitable, when in reality most women will never be mugged... we see it, we feel it-we start to see it as unescapable.

At my low point today, considering these things, I opened Facebook and started scrolling through my news feed. I came across a link to a page for a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, and saw that he has raised over 6000 dollars to help pay for his treatment. Something in me sparked, and I remembered a page for a stranger, a girl named Laura, that I was on last month. Laura needed surgery for a very painful condition, and she had no medical insurance. Her friends, and their friends, and their friends, gave what they could to help support this girl. Her doctors had mercy on her. She had her surgery. And then a second after complications. And money is still coming in to help her pay for these things. These donations come in increments of all sizes, some as small as five dollars. But people, many people, are giving whatever they can to help her.

I made a joking comment the other day to someone about how all my friends were either college students or poor. He asked me if that wasn't the story of our generation. We are the children of a recession, of a breaking economy, and a lack of jobs mixed with an overdose of passion. But all these people with no money are coming together to remember that life is worth more than what we don't have... it's really just amazing.

My heart is hurting for the family of the young man killed last night. It is hurting for the families on the news today suffering from different tragedies. It is hurting for a world that seems to be sinking.

But it's not broken. Actually, it is hopeful for a new generation. I believe the lower we sink, the more opportunity we have to show ourselves strong, to reach out and help one another. I believe that there is a chance for greatness in every single one of us- after all, aren't we designed by a Wonderful Maker who instills part of Himself into us?

I will focus on these positive things- I will start to ask what we can do to make these kind of changes. I am uplifted that my heart has changed, that \ the hardship is not all I can see. I will stop watching the news, and start focusing on the incredible things happening, not just in my corner, but all over the world. Life is very short, and very uncertain, but we are given much. And it's meant to be shared.

In the midst of the horrors of life, we are given great opportunity to show what we are made of. And when we work with what we have, even if it's only a little, it makes a big difference.

If you would like to give a little also:
Sean's page
Laura's page

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dear Friends- Take Gas Money

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
-Albert Camus

I am one of those rare people who are over the age of 25 but do not drive.

When most people hear this, they make one of three assumptions. Either A)I've lost my licesnse because of too many tickets or accidents or other infractions, B)I have some medical issue that induces some kind of effect that won't allow me to drive, or C)I can't afford it. In reality, none of these assumptions are quite right- I have vision issues that make me nervous about the prospect of getting behind the wheel. Fortunately, I live in a place that has excellent public transportation that gets me to most of the daily places I need to be. And for the rest, I have wonderful friends who I feel very safe getting into the car with.

But sometimes I wish they would take more gas money.

Don't get me wrong, it's great to be driven around when it's needed. Actually, I'm even luckier than most, because they often offer to take me places so I don't have to ask. And many times, when I'm going out, I'm going with them anyway. My younger sister tells me she doesn't see the point in taking cash from me if she was going somewhere anyway. And even when I argue that if I drove, sometimes we'd take my wheels, all too often, she shakes her head and pushes my cash away.

It makes me wonder if we've all been raised to be too polite. We are taught to give and give and give even when we are already stretched, and while I am grateful for that lesson (and I will write about that at another time), we are also taught not to take. It is instilled in us that we are to be independent, stand alone creatures, who are able to create what we need all our own. We are told in the same breath that it's good to give away what we have, but it's underrated to collect.

We don't want to benefit from anyone else's excess. We don't want to receive what we so clearly should have already have. If someone else can create it, we can create it too. I get the sentiment.

But I think we take it too far.

Sometimes I feel like we have gotten to the point in society where we feel like receiving is going to strain our friendships. I think we are afraid that if we take something when someone who loves us offers it, then we are forever going to feel awkward around them. Or we don't want to put them out or feel like they've been strained in any way. It's a carefully constructed plot in which we make sure we are almost always, if not entirely always, the givers, not the other way around.

The problem is that giving has to be a two way street, because if it really is more blessed to give than receive, then someone has to be doing the receiving. When we give to one another, and I don't mean to charity, I mean to the people close and special to us, we are showing that we also want to put in the effort. We want to meet in the middle. We don't want to be lavished upon- we want the partnership that is supposed to accompany companionship.

I don't just mean stuff, either. Friendship is supposed to be based on exchanges. It's not much of a friendship if only one person does the sharing. We need to give a little of ourselves over to make something sturdy. We have to take turns being the comforter and the comforted when the chips are down. We need to sometimes initiate plans, and sometimes accept invitations. We must sometimes be the one giving bad news- and sometimes we must be ready to receive it. It's all about balances. Otherwise, only one person actually has a friend- it's one sided.

I am not implying that my friendships are one-sided, in case any of my friends are reading this. I am blessed to say that I have a lot of people in my life who engage in these back-and-forths. I love them and trust them and know that if I needed them, they would be there for me. And often I make sure that they know that I want to be there for them as well.

We stand together, trusting one another with the details of our lives, and I believe we have created really solid relationships- not one sided at all, but reciprocal. Built together. And built to last. These relationships have all begun somewhere, over a cup of coffee or some froyo or even just a few moments of conversations. But they all began with both parties working together.

Dear Friends, take gas money. Take the little offerings that the important people in your life give you. It's not about putting them out. It's about taking steps to ensure that your relationships are balanced. Don't take for granted any of the small exchanges, even in the beginning. The littlest gestures often give a big start to real friendships.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Melodius Lessons

Details create the big picture.
-Sanford Weill

Recently I found myself arguing over song lyrics- specifically if they could stand alone, or if, for the most part, the depended on the background chords, a great melody, and a singer with soul. And while the prideful lyricist in me wanted to prove that good lyrics could work independently, by the end of the conversation, I had to concede to the musician in me, that with a few exceptions, most words depend on their background. However, I was able to concisely prove that bad lyrics could ruin a whole song.

I had this same conversation about movie scripts not too long ago.

I am a writer, first and foremost. I like to believe that the pen, the tool known to be mightier than the sword, is mightier than anything else as well and can rise above all challenges and expectations. But the truth about good writing is that it lives in a bigger picture. It relies on a medium, and a voice, and even a reader or listener who can process and anticipate it's meanings. Even spelling out something for someone is not useful if that person cannot comprehend it- there is always something that writing relies on if it's going to reach others. Writing is part of a team, a small part of a bigger picture.

But make no mistake- writing is more than important in the grand scheme. It's essential. Think of how a bad piece of fruit spoils a bunch. It's the same concept as poor writing- a bad script can make a movie a very difficult thing to sell. If the story line and the dialogue is not realistic, everything has to work overtime to get past it. If a song has words that offend a listener, they make block it out for good, no matter how great the rest of the music. Sure, there are times when we can look past the bad writing and still get into the medium, but the truest greats have to be catchy on all levels.

And it's the same with people.

We don't always like to fit into a group, or to have to rely on others to make ourselves great. We want to be shining stars, standing alone against the world's sky of blackness. We hope that we alone are good and worthy of adoration without needing other people to talk us up or give us credibility or credence. And we don't want the others in our life to be the reason that people judge us- we want to be so incredible that no one cares about how we spend our time on a Saturday night. The media works in overdrive to try to perpetuate that this is the life of a celebrity, but it's simply not true- they always need sources to prove their point. People always need sources to be able to believe they know who we are.

It's an even bigger issue in the church. It's hard enough to be a strong hearted Christian in a secular world where our lives are often misunderstood and thought of as old fashioned. But the people who spread their own dislikes and difficulties under the religious paradigm make it almost impossible without introducing ourselves to the world as followers and not getting a million questions of why, or a heavy sigh, or a skeptical look. We want our own faith to stand out and speak so loud that it negates everything that other's have ever said on first meeting. But that's just not how it works.

We were created and designed from the very beginning to need other people and other things. Even the most introverted person, at one point or another, is going to need others to help them get to where they want to be. We rely on the help of our world to create ourselves, and while we may like to be soloists or hope to stand out above all others, we will always need other people. And the other people in our lives do define who we become.

I am constantly coming to terms with this. Deep down, I love the idea of being part of something bigger than myself. I love that our lives are shaped and formed by what happens to us. Knowledge becomes wisdom after experience. But there is still a very surface part of me that wishes I could stand alone. That all that happens to me could feel less intrusive. That I could rise above all the other people around me and be special. But even if I could do all of that, I would still not be truly independent. Because I would always be shaped and formed by the Creator, who made me to begin with.

I am the lyrics. I plan to be the clearest, most beautifully poetic lines I can possibly be. I don't want to ruin the song for anyone- I want to draw the listener in. But I need to be mindful of those around me and what kind of music they are making. At the end of the day, all that I surround myself with is going to make up the music that is my life. One day, I will close my eyes for the last time and it will play quietly over the movement of my soul.

I can't wait to hear it.