By Sarah Ruddle; co-founder
In our everyday lives we just reach into our pockets and snap a quick picture on our phones anytime we want to document something. We share pictures in text messages, share real time views via Facetime, and then proceed to post pictures of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We “like” pictures on Social Media, laugh at cute memes of children, and even Photoshop our own pictures to make sure we are getting the right lighting and best possible angle. Pictures do a great job of offering the viewer a broad general idea of what we are viewing and of our experiences.
Pictures show the mischief in a child’s eyes, the sparkle in an elderly man’s smile, or even how perfectly melted pizza cheese is on a highly altered Instagram picture. A picture can also show you the tears streaming down a helpless mothers face as she cries holding her infant child who is starving to death, can vividly portrait a woman who is so frail she cannot stand up, and yet falls to her knees in gratitude when she received three small bags of rice and grain, and a casually snapped photograph catch children running around bare foot, laughing and teasing each other, and playing happily amongst piles and piles of rubble. And, one mere picture can show an entire nation devastated by natural disasters, and yet somehow still standing ….and standing with pride. The sights of Haiti can be captured in pictures; however, the pictures cannot even begin to accurately convey the poverty, the garbage, the heartache, the death, the tears, the laughter, and the never ending joy of these great people.
It is true, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I hope this one picture leaves every reader searching the dictionary for the accurate words, for my verbal thesaurus has run out of adequate adjectives to describe what I saw in Haiti recently. I saw a country that had clearly been recently devastated by two natural disasters. Every day I was there I saw people wait in 90 degree heat for hours, without complaint or gripe, in hopes they would be able to see a doctor that day. I saw these same people sleep in what used to be streets, on top of broken concrete, shattered buildings, mud puddles, and human waste, all in hopes of being seen by the doctors the next morning.
I saw parents weep uncontrollably as they held their dying children in their arms, begging a doctor to help cure an incurable illness. I saw doctors and nurses and other volunteers cry with these parents and proceed to work tirelessly around the clock, with no breaks or food, in order to treat as many people as possible. I saw children laughing and poking each other and siblings fighting and girls smiling at the boys they thought were cute, and could not help but smile myself at how universal humanity is. At the end of the day we are all just people. We all want our loved ones to be healthy and happy, we all want the cute boy/girl to notice us, we all long for human connection, we all laugh and cry and desperately seek out hope when we do not know what to do or where to turn. What I saw in Haiti was humanity at its best amidst an environment straight out hell.
My hope is when you look at this picture you do not feel sorry for the people of Haiti, rather you begin to think about the people of Haiti. That you begin to think about these people as you would think about your own family, friends, and even yourself. How would you survive in these living conditions? What would you do in order to get your children out of this situation? How desperate would you feel? What would give you hope each day?
My prayer is when each reader looks at this picture they truly look at it - with their eyes and heart, and that for a few minutes nothing matters but this picture and the reality people live like this daily. And it is my prayer someone viewing this picture will begin to pray for Haiti and the people who live there, for the countless aid workers from across the globe who sacrifice their time, money and talents to help others and you begin to pray about how YOU can help. Sure, we are not all called to help Haiti or anywhere overseas, but I do strongly believe we are all called to help humanity.
It is my hope, and prayer, whoever reads this, whoever is brave enough to stop and look at this picture and allows it to seep into their soul, also finds the courage to create a new way to make a difference. It is my hope that you can also see humanity at its best, even when all hope seems lost. After all, hope is never lost – sometimes we just need someone to help us find it again.
There are a crazy amount of tears that are shed when you run a nonprofit organization. Double that for when you run two. This is hard to admit for a person who does not like to show emotion in public. I have always been a person who can practice the strictest amount of self-control, and I am the person who can keep it together no matter how painful the situation is. It can drive me crazy when the tears begin to fall, and I almost always feel the need to analyze my feelings.
So that's what happened this morning, as I fully realized the fact that Sarah and I, two very small people with not much to offer the world and a lot of strikes against them, lead two amazing nonprofit organizations and are supported by a HUGE number of supporters. I feel so utterly blessed; it makes me cry. There are several things about The Torch and 180 that never, ever, cease to amaze me - and one of them touches me so deeply it makes me weep.
I was looking at the list of people who stepped up and donated to our $30,000 campaign. It is a very, very long list, because the people who support us give what they can and it isn't always a lot of money. That proves to me over and over again how powerful we are when we all work together. The Torch and 180 are growing and thriving because of people just like Sarah and me who give what they can when they can. If it's $1.80, or $5.00 or $10.00 or $2,000 or more - we are always blessed and encouraged!
I was recently talking with a friend who had a lot of questions about what we do. She began to list funding sources as suggestions for us to pursue. The thing is, all the funding sources she suggested to me follow the accepted pattern established by our society for helping others - the requirements for documenting each individual we help. And that goes against everything Sarah and I believe and the reasons we founded The Torch.
We have been told many times that many doors for funding and partnerships would open if we would only partner with larger organizations. The problem is, they don't operate by our moral code, vision and values, so we pass on those opportunities. If we thought that model was the way to do things, we wouldn't have started the Torch. There's no reason to re-invent the wheel.
So, what we do can often be more difficult for us than it is for others who have large institutional support behind them. We work very hard to raise the money we need to keep moving forward. We depend on lots and lots of other people who believe the way we do and operate with limited personal resources, much like us. In many ways, that's what sets us apart. It's also why we cry over donations, kind words of encouragement, and when people try hard to help spread the word about what we are doing. It's really just us and all of you out there working together.
We have no statewide or national organization behind us, although there is some talk of something like that happening. One thing we know for sure, no matter what opportunities lie ahead - we will never move on them if they require us to abandon our dream of what The Torch is and what we stand for.
We always want to be the light in the darkness for those who need hope and encouragement. We never want anyone to hesitate to approach our truck. We want people to know they are loved in spite of their mistakes or circumstances. We've been told so many times that model just won't work, yet it does again and again.
And, once again, I am crying in gratitude to all of you who think like we do and are willing to sacrifice what you can to help us keep moving forward.
I was just listening to the song "Grown Up Christmas List", and, of course, it got me thinking about the things people wish for and want. It's interesting how the list changes as people age. I was recently in a mall, sitting near Santa - and I listened as child after child told him what they wanted for Christmas. It was quite a variety of toys and gifts.
I started thinking about what I want. My kids ask me every year, and I struggle to come up with something material or tangible for them to give me. We live in a country where our material needs and wants are pretty easily gratified. When I take inventory of my possessions, I realize my needs are covered. I don't need more THINGS.
So, what do I want? What do I need? What do people want and need?
I made a list of what I think:
1. People want to be seen. They want their presence to be acknowledged and to receive a respectful nod when they encounter others. They need eye contact and smiles, affirming appreciation for their presence.
2. People want to be cared about. They need to know that their existence in this world matters, and that somebody will miss them when they are gone.
3. People want to do something that matters. They need to feel like they are contributing to the world in some way. They want to know that somebody's life is different, and better, because of them.
4. People want their pain to be acknowledged. The holiday season is not joyful all the time for everyone.
The "first" everything after a significantly painful loss can feel devestating. I remember when my sister died right before Thanksgiving, I didn't think I would ever smile or laugh again. I was enveloped in a cloud of pain. Everyone around me seemed happy and as if they expected me to just drink in their joy.
I remember one evening I was sitting in a church pew, my heart aching, and a gentleman approached me and said, "I am so sorry about the loss of your sister. It must hurt a lot right now." I needed that, because it did, and it helped to know I wasn't alone.
5. People need awareness. In order to truly meet the needs of others - people need to be fully present with the human beings around them. Purchasing the perfect gift is not as important as expressing concern and love and acceptance. Serving a meal is important, but serving it in love is what truly impacts the world.
Those are the things people want and need. If we really want to give gifts that have a lasting impact, we will practice meeting those needs - not just at the holidays, but all the time.
By Sarah Ruddle
I am currently sitting in the Orlando airport staring and trying to make sense of what I just saw, smelled and experienced. I am looking at an airport terminal with an ice cream shop, BK, a pizza shop, a coney restaurant, Outback steakhouse, a shoe shiner, countless kiosks and a massage parlor. I have showered once in the past week and it was by dumping a bucket of dirty water over my head, so now I am turning heads with my ripe stench. I don't care. In fact I welcome the stares and wish I could explain what is taking place in my heart and how I earned this smell.
Haiti is the poorest country in our part of the world and with a population of about 10 million people it does not even have a single trained pediatric neurosurgeon. The past week I stood in awe of surgeons who worked round the clock to treat people who otherwise would die from illnesses, injuries and diseases easily treated in America. I treated the "mild conditions" and saw infections that were so bad it was making legs and feet swell to the point of cracking open in order to relieve the pressure the puss was causing. There were countless times I had to excuse myself, walk outside to vomit,and come back inside to continue treating the never ending line of people waiting in the 90 degree heat in hopes of finding help. The smell....that will be described later,as my limited vocabulary and tired mind cannot adequately describe that.
I had been to Haiti prior to this trip, but knew going into this it would be powerful and like nothing I have ever experienced due to the recent hurricane. The trip itself has brought so many emotions—anxiety, joy, heartbreak and immense gratitude, and my journey has been etched in pen and, or course, written on napkins (the torch was a dream written on a napkin, so my notes now go on napkins). Over the course of the next few days I know people will ask about the trip, and honestly, I dread having to try and explain this to the 180 students tomorrow knowing I will fail and am too emotionally raw to begin to try. I hope to share with you,at least some small part of this incredible experience and through my words and pictures you will be able to travel to Haiti and that we can begin to work more eagerly, earnestly and selflessly help those around us. We don't need to go to Haiti to help others, we just need to actually see others, value them and make it a priority to help.
Please know - you have the power to change, inspire and serve others. We live in a world where people try to get you to focus on the darkness and we forget the power of the light. Let's be bolder than darkness.
There have been many latent and unexpected things that have happened as a result of our initial napkin dream. Our initial goal and plan was pretty simple: feed people. That's it. We just wanted to feed people, and talk to them, and get to know them, and treat them like human beings, so they would know somebody cares no matter where they are at in life. So, mostly we wanted to feed people. Then, as we have been pursuing our goal and vision, other, unanticipated things have happened.
Community. Community has happened. We have built this amazing community of people. They come to the food truck, and they eat and visit with each other and with us. They talk to us on Facebook and encourage each other when they can. We have been told we are beloved members of some of the neighborhoods where we serve food. We have received cards and pictures and all kinds of crafts and loving messages. We have watched single moms get to know each other - and form support systems to help each other through the rocky times, and to cheer for each other in the great times.
Change. We have seen change. We have observed change in some of the systems that are in place to help people. Recently, we were at an event where we heard representatives from other organizations giving presentations. As we listened, we noticed that the tone of these presentations has changed. The words are softer, and the approaches toward helping others sounded very - well - "Torchy" to me. In fact, Sarah whispered, "Everyone is copying us." I replied, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." I am filled with joy at the thought that we have influenced those in other organizations to realize that people are people are people, no matter what has happened in their lives.
I've been pondering that change, and I think I know what has happened. Sarah and I have very publicly put a face on poverty. One time, I gave an English class I was teaching an assignment. They were to read a poorly-written article about Sarah and I and the Torch. I wasn't ready for their response. I wanted to know where the run-on and fragment sentences were. What places were examples of bad grammar, and where were the punctuation errors? Instead, the room became very silent. I finally asked if someone could point out the first error.
One of the men in the class hesitantly raised his hand and said, "It says you were homeless." I said, "I was." The silence continued as everyone awkwardly avoided commenting or making eye-contact with me. That's not the first time that has happened. People sometimes take a step back when I mention my period of homelessness. I've heard it and seen it when Sarah and I have presented together. We've put a face on it - and it could be anyone. That's a reality which is difficult to accept, but we have been saying it so much and for so long to anyone and everyone who will listen, and, I think we humanized it. That makes me happy.
Now, we are working with the 180 students. They are people who struggle with disabilities, but we don't focus on that. We focus on all the things they can do, and the bar of our expectation is high. And often, when we talk to people about the individuals we are working with - there are awkward moments. Somebody even told me that we would have to keep our prices low because the food our students made would be sub-par. Four years from now, I hope I am writing a blog about how the face of the individuals in our society who have disabilities has changed.
Could be another one of those unexpected results...
Nearly two years ago, we launched our second nonprofit organization, Torch 180. Torch 180 came about because, as we were out and about serving people from our food truck, we had a lot of conversations regarding employment. Actually, about the lack thereof. We met a lot of people who have disabilities - and the discussion of training opportunities came up frequently.
Sarah and I started thinking and talking about the situation, and we wondered if we could do something to help. As we pondered and brainstormed, we eventually started thinking we could offer training for people with disabilities who want to work in the food service industry. We had gotten pretty good at understanding what that takes, and were confident we could teach others. I had worked for over twenty years with people who had disabilities, and Sarah had vast experience in food service.
So, we both became ServSafe certified instructors and proctors, and launched Torch 180 in January, 2015. We soon connected with the Michigan Career and Technical Institute, which offers training for people with disabilities in Plainwell, Michigan. We became partners and agreed to become their first culinary satellite site in the state of Michigan!
We began looking for a building with a commercial kitchen to house this dream in, when we got the opportunity to train two young men. We borrowed a kitchen and launched our first class. Both young men passed their ServSafe Food Handler tests and are employed! We learned a lot from that class and were very excited to offer another class in yet a different kitchen over the summer. All six of those students successfully achieved their Food Handler certification!
The success of the students in both those classes has made us dream even bigger and higher about impacting and helping people change lives. We set out earnestly looking for a building - and praying like crazy - and we finally, after two years, have found one that meets all the requirements we have!
We are now raising money to purchase the building. Per usual, an awesome supporter stepped forward and offered to match 10% to any donations we receive between November 17, 2016 and December 31, 2016 - up to $30,000!
So, we are launching a campaign to encourage everyone to donate and support us - because your money will truly be multiplied! Any amount helps, and ALL donations will be used 100% for acquiring the building. After we have that - donations we be used to help people with disabilities find hope through our training programs and support systems - AND to expand the Torch as we seek ways to help even more people in need.
We can do all this TOGETHER!
Click here to donate now. And, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts!
How much is too much to give up to pursue a dream? How much time is too much time to sacrifice? How much money is too much to give? I think it all depends on how much it's worth to us. So, it's good to take time to think it all through.
In September, 2012, Sarah and I incorporated The Torch. We had a vision and a plan that was relatively simple. We wanted to feed people. We wanted them to know, that no matter what has happened in their lives, regardless of whose fault it might be - or what choices brought them to where they are - they are still valuable human beings who deserve to be respected and loved, and to have hope in their lives. We wanted our food truck and symbol, The Torch, to represent light during what can be some very dark moments in life.
Our desire and passion to do this was so strong we gave up our free time activities to pursue the dream. We scraped up money wherever we could get it - if one of us had $10 or $20 or $5 to donate to The Torch, we put it in. When we were tired and discouraged, we dug deep within ourselves, prayed a lot, held our heads high, and continued to push through the struggles.
And then we had a food truck. We brought that baby home right before Winter, and didn't have a clue how to make it work. So, we spent night after night, weekend after weekend working in it and on it, practicing and learning and figuring things out. We cried tears that froze to our cheeks, and discovered endurance we didn't realize we possessed. We clung to our dream, our goal, our hope.
The day finally arrived when we were scheduled to take our food truck out to our very first stop in what was to become one of our regular neighborhoods. We were tense, and our patience and knowledge were stretched as we parked the truck and began to prepare the food. Of course, it started to rain. We looked at each other and said, "What if nobody comes?" But we pushed that thought aside and cooked a meal.
And the people began to come. And come. And come. The rain stopped. The sun came out. All at once, the line at the window had dwindled to a few people - and I looked out over the grassy area and basketball court next to the truck - and I saw lots and lots of people. They were eating, and talking and laughing. A young girl came to the window for seconds and said with a huge smile, "I have never seen the people here come out for anything like this!"
The sweat, the tears, the fears, the sacrifices were all worth it at that moment. We realized one cannot say, "This is how much it is worth to help human beings." There is no price that can be attached to affecting lives and bringing hope.
A lifetime has gone by in the past four years. During that time we realized we could impact lives even more if we were able to get involved on a more personal level than we have with the food truck. A large number of people with disabilities live in poverty. They can be made to feel like they have nothing to contribute to society.
We realized we could bring hope. We could offer training, and help connect disenfranchised people into our awesome community. And so we launched Torch 180 where we train people who have disabilities to work in the food service industry. We knew it wouldn't be easy. We knew we would be making sacrifices. We didn't realize it would take as long as it has to get our very own building. We've taken a lot of risks along the way.
So far, without a building of our own, we have trained eight individuals. Six are now working, and two are looking for work. We are working with an additional eight students - and hoping to add another class of up to ten. Meanwhile, we are raising funds to purchase our own space - where we hope to be able to offer our community delicious food and fun and a place where people get together, while continuing to train and impact the lives of human beings we meet.
We have wept. We have struggled. We have sacrificed. But how much is too much? We know there is no price that is too high to pay to bring hope to the people in this world.
We are deeply grateful to everyone who has come alongside us and sacrificed and given.
If you would like to help out - you can click this link: http://www.torch180.org/180-campaign.html
How much? That's entirely up to you. :) Thank you in advance!
When people are young and starting out in life, they tend to dream big, and often believe there is nothing they cannot do. They are able to envision a future world in which they achieve their dreams, and the world is a better place because of it. They are often passionately outspoken about the things in the world that they believe are wrong. They want to change it and make it better for themselves and for everyone else.
I think many people I know have been there, and believed that. I did. But, somewhere along the way, we settled. We started to accept the status quo, and believe we really couldn't make a difference. We began to be satisfied with just quietly living our own lives, making our own money, raising our own families, and not getting too involved with everything else that's going on around us. We withdrew our energy and interest from passionately caring about how the world is treating others, and we settled for making sure we get our piece of the pie, and our family is doing okay.
It feels like the current election season is part of the settlement we negotiated when we decided to become a society of individuals. If it's good enough for me, it's good enough. If it's good enough for my family, it's good enough. If a few friends are okay with what's going on, it's good enough. If the best possible candidates cannot get on the ballot, it's good enough. As we sit on the sidelines and observe the fray, listen to the campaigning, and try to sort through the VOLUMES of information to find unbiased facts to help us become informed and intelligent participants in this society, it can feel overwhelming. Especially if we don't like what we see, and want real change that benefits us collectively.
Apathy is the price of accepting such a settlement. It is tempting to withdraw into our individuals homes, shut our individual doors, and concentrate only on ourselves. Our votes don't seem to matter, and people get angry with each other when they disagree. It's so much easier to ignore than to participate.
But settling for the status quo, becoming more individualistic, and retreating into apathy are not acceptable choices. They are easy choices - and they got us to this point. And getting all enraged and emotional over an election won't fix the problems we face collectively, as a society.
I think we CAN do something. I think we CAN make change, but it's going to take time. And it's not going to come without a cost - and it won't happen because of politics. It will happen because of people. One of the greatest things about America is that grassroots movements can bring about great change.
We need to figure out how to bring community to our own local communities. We need to make room in our lives for people who are different. We need to try to help people we can help. I'm not talking about buying a Starbucks coffee for the person in line behind you or me. I'm not saying it's wrong to be kind to a stranger, but paying it forward in that way does nothing to build or strengthen our connections to other human beings as human beings. We need to stop and talk to people. Look them in the eye. Figure out a way we can get to know people who are different from us. Try hard to understand why they are what they are, and why they do what they do.
Connecting. We need to start in our immediate neighborhoods, and see how many connections we can make. If we open our hearts to really caring about other people's lives, we can find ways our community can work together to become more of a community. We should swallow our pride, fear, apathy and whatever else stands in the way, take risks, and try something - a community dinner or picnic, maybe. We should go out of our way to invite people we don't know, and include people who are typically excluded from our circle of friends.
People respond to love and acceptance. It's time we opened our eyes and our lives to the people around us - and stopped settling for being a society of one - and become a society of millions, connected by our humanity and linked by community and caring brought about by knowing other human beings. It's a big task, but it beats settling for good enough.
We are always talking about dreaming here at the Torch and 180. Sarah and I are big, huge dreamer and often find ourselves contemplating chasing the impossible. Our faith has grown a lot since 2012, when all this started. Some of the most encouraging messages we ever receive are from people who have been inspired and encouraged to step out and try something that they dreamed of doing, but never had before.
But, what happens when the dream doesn't work out? What happens when it all falls apart, and we know we did everything in our power to move it forward? What happens then? Somebody told me one time he admired the things Sarah and I have been doing. He said that he once had an opportunity to follow a dream, but it didn't work out - and so he had missed his chance. I understand he must have felt very discouraged when things fell apart. Things seems to fall apart at Torch and 180 on a pretty regular basis.
But, the beauty of dreaming is it isn't a one-shot deal, and dreams can take whatever shape we want them to. The Torch dream did not begin as a food truck, and 180 was not a mobile training program. Neither has been easy to achieve - and they wouldn't be where they are if Sarah and I rigidly stuck to what looked like very possible and successful ideas. We try a lot of things, pursue a lot of leads, talk about a TON of opportunities - and probably 90% of it does not ever pan out into anything successful.
When that happens, it isn't easy, let me promise you that. We both hate to fail, and we both have a hard time letting go when things don't work out. But we also don't give up on dreaming. If something doesn't work one way, maybe it will work another way. Or maybe, we have to let it go and search for a whole new idea or plan. We find ourselves doing that all the time.
The thing is, without the ability to dream more dreams and dream different dreams - ideas just remain ideas, and hope grows stagnant. I can't survive in a world where I can't dream and try and fail and try again. Every time I fall down, I get discouraged and often want to quit, but after that passes, I start to wonder what will happen when I get back up again. And again. And again. And the most unexpected things happen at the most unexpected times. They always have. They always will. Nothing can stop dreamers from dreaming. Don't let anything stop YOU.
Get out there and exercise your ability to dream.
Where were you when it happened? I know you remember. Everyone does. Do you remember how you felt as the news accounts revealed the horror of the 9/11 attacks for the very first time? Did you go numb as the day progressed, and it was the only thing anyone could talk about? Did you feel incredibly sad, and burdened by the realization that things would never be the same again? Did you wonder what you could do, as a member of the human race, to try to fix things? To do something?
For me, it is yes to all of the above. I know it is yes for most of the people I know. My co-founder, Sarah, wanted to joined the military to protect the country she loved. Many others did the same. I couldn't, I wasn't at all qualified or even at a place in my life where I could go and do that, and I felt so darned helpless. But I did pray. I prayed hard and long for people I didn't even know. I prayed for my country. I prayed for our leadership. I prayed for the families who lost loved ones. I even prayed for those who committed the crimes.
I wanted to understand. I realized I had been living in a bubble - and it was one in which I just assumed the United States was a blessed nation above all others. I assumed we could never be touched by such atrocities. And because I assumed that, I never gave much thought to those in the world who constantly lived with such threats. It didn't affect me, so I didn't think about it.
But I changed on 9/11/2001. The attacks on our country were wrong in every sense of the word. Innocent people died by the scores and innocent families were scarred for life. I had a choice to make that day. I could turn off the television and put walls around my heart so it wouldn't affect me. After all, I didn't personally know anyone who died - so I could, essentially continue life unchanged.
Or, I could open my heart and mind to the world around me. I could allow myself to experience pain on a level I hadn't done before. I could allow myself to be affected as a member of the human race. And that's what I chose. I cried tears for people I didn't know, and I found a new depth of compassion for my fellow human beings that I had never explored before.
I began to be affected by what I read in the news. I could no longer read or watch stories of innocent people who die anywhere in the world without feeling an ache in my heart, without wondering about their families, their lives, their hopes, their dreams.
My heart changed. My prayer life changed. My apathy is gone. I realized the most powerful thing I can do is to love more, to reach out to the people who come into my life and do my best to show them that they matter. I can listen more. I can appreciate and pray more for those who stepped up to defend this country. I can make the effort to connect with all kinds of people and let them know I care. I can let them know God cares.
9/11/2001 changed who I am.
Did it change you?
I was so frustrated today when I couldn't find all the items on my list at Meijer. I thought they were supposed to have everything? I bought the things they did have, and decided to go to Target for the rest. I was annoyed, because I had so much to do - and I was in a hurry!
As I got into my car, I decided I would stop at my PO Box on the way to Target. I was completely absorbed in mentally checking off items on my to-do list as I waited to exit the parking lot. Then, as I looked to my right, to see if it was safe to pull out onto the road, I saw a man sitting on a walker, with a cardboard sign indicating he was hungry and a homeless veteran.
I noted him, and pulled out, turning left to continue on to the post office. But he was on my mind, and I thought maybe I should turn around. I began to recite all the tasks I needed to do. And I reminded myself how far behind I was. And how inconvenient the trip to Target was for me. I began to rationalize about how I had spent so much time the past week helping other people, and how much I needed to do yet this weekend to get ready to help more people next week. I reminded myself he was just one man, compared to the hundreds we were helping at The Torch, and other people could help him.
I left the post office, and my car drove me back to the Meijer parking lot. I parked and got out, walking toward the man. When I reached him, I was immediately struck by his very deep blue eyes. He watched me approach, and looked surprised when I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Rhonda, what's your name?"
"Fig", he answered with a smile.
"Fig?" I asked- "what's your last name?"
"Newton", he said, smiling bigger.
I have to admit, it took me a minute to put it together. Then I laughed and asked if Fig Newton was really his name. He said it was a nickname he had since he was 15 and that it bothered him then, but now he likes it because his real name is James, and that is very common. He said he had only met one other Fig Newton in his life.
I asked him to tell me his story - and Fig Newton told me he had been in the Army in the late fifties and early sixties. He then spent forty-nine years working the carnival circuit. He said it was a good life, that he never went hungry, and he and his wife raised a daughter in carnivals - and doing a multitude of odd jobs during the winter months. He said he worked until he was 72 years old, and his body just couldn't take it anymore.
For an hour I visited with Fig. He told me repeatedly how blessed his life has been. He explained that his wife died from cancer seven years ago, and that he lives in a tent inside a barn. He told me how grateful he is to the people who allow him to do that, and how he does what he can to pay them back. And he told me about how thankful he is for the VA, because he has had multiple surgeries - and that he is glad he only needs a walker because a wheelchair would make life really difficult for him.
He told me that he had a heart attack and died.
He said he saw himself laying down and then he was moving toward a glowing aura. He never believed in such a thing, although he believed in God, but now he said he saw it, and he isn't afraid of what comes after this life. He told me, with tears in his eyes, "I'm not afraid of what's on the other side. Who knows? Maybe I will get to see my parents again."
And that's when I began to cry.
I wasn't talking to a homeless beggar. I was talking to a human being. Fig is a person with a history and a future. I asked him if people are mean to him when he sits begging. He said for the most part, no, but sometimes people will drive by and yell, "GET A JOB!"
When that happens, he thinks, I'm 72 years old. I can't work. I did have a job. I worked for 49 years.
But he amiably acknowledged that people don't know that. And he is absolutely right. People don't know it, and they don't acknowledge it. He worked in carnivals for all those years. People who tell him to get a job probably go to carnivals. Somebody has to run the rides. But it's a job that has no benefits. No retirement. No security. We want people to do those jobs, but we don't give a thought to the position it puts them in. They are just supposed to disappear when they can't work anymore, I guess.
In my silly arrogance I thought I would stop and help a beggar on the side of the road. Instead, a man who has lived a "full and blessed" life talked with me for an hour - and touched my heart in a major way.
Every morning, Fig says a prayer:
"There are those who will, those who can't, and those who won't. God, please bless those who will."
Thank you so much for this program. You couldn't imagine how much this will help our family.
Currently in need of any help I can get.
Thank you for all that you do. It is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for the blessing you are.
It is possible to be so wrapped up in what you are doing you lose sight of what you are doing. You go from meeting to planning session to shopping, food prep and serving. And all the while you are content, but focused on the job at hand. There are so many things to do, so many people who want and need to talk, and so much thought and planning required to keep things going and make them the best they can be.
At the heart of it all is the mission. What we want to do at the Torch and 180 is to help other people. We want to give them hope that things can get better, and to remind them that right now, in the midst of their struggles, they are worth our time, effort, sweat, tears, and work. We want to take steps of faith that leave people without a doubt that they are important and loved.
And sometimes we need to hear, to be reminded and made aware, that we are helping - that what we do is needed and appreciated. We are filled, blessed and encouraged by the messages we often receive. We read them. We talk about them. We pray over them. And they humble us.
And we do remember, because not that long ago, we were there. We were searching for help, and absorbing the tiniest crumbs of hope that were scattered our way. We were longing for the touch from another human being which would gently remind us that we mattered, too, no matter how far down we were. We cherished those moments as much as we cherish the moments now, when people are helped and blessed by what we do.
Faith, love, and hope fuel and inspire us at the Torch. We believe people matter and that belief informs our actions and decisions. We are thankful and humbled we have the opportunity to live out what we believe. We know we are blessed, so incredibly blessed.
When I was a mean little sister - I would try to antagonize my older sister, Lisa. One day, I found a taunt that sent her running into the house crying. I was chanting over and over again, "Lisa, pizza, Lisa, pizza...", and laughing at how upset she became. I remember feeling quite taken aback when she soon came outside and said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Suddenly, in the face of a poem such as that, my "Lisa pizza" teasing felt flat and deflated - and it worked, I stopped saying it.
I was five.
Through the years, as I was growing up, I found myself facing many situations in which I would repeat that small poem over and over again. The reality, though, is that in spite of the fact hearing it worked to stop my kindergarten teasing - it isn't true for every situation. Sometimes words cut deep and hurt so profoundly we find ourselves feeling like we will never recover from the pain they inflict. And sometimes they humiliate and embarrass people so much that whatever fragile self-esteem they have crumbles into nothing.
Our world is more filled with words now than ever before. People who would never read an entire book can sit for hours reading Facebook posts and following Twitter feeds. We absorb words and messages at a rate unlike anything we have ever done in the past. And we have 24/7 access to people we may never even have to face. That seems to make it easier to fight and argue and say mean things that do nothing to build people up, and a whole lot to tear them down.
I can't say how often I have seen couples or siblings or people on opposite sides of the political scene, or even friends, fighting online. Sometimes their words are so hateful and derogatory, it makes me cringe. Rumors that destroy others are started, fueled and spread quickly through the use of words on social media. The more astonishing, shocking and hurtful they sound, the more quick people tend to be to share them.
Let's face it, it's much easier to hide behind a computer or cell phone and insult someone else than it is to confront them and discuss issues face to face. To say that words can never hurt me is more untrue in this society than ever before. They can hurt. They can devastate. Many of the words out there in cyberspace could be eliminated and there would be less pain in the world.
And the poem needs to change, maybe to something like: Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words can certainly hurt me.
Just to remind us to use our words to heal.
There is a difference between pointing out problems and solving problems. Without a doubt, we encounter a myriad of problems in our personal lives, our society, and our world. I have noticed people are pretty accomplished at pointing out problems in others, society and the world. Not so much in ourselves. Maybe that's because it's hard to point out our own problems and talking about the problems of society and the world are much less personal.
The issue is, it's easier to talk about problems than it is to come up with solutions for them - whether they are personal or bigger than just us as individuals. I have to admit, one of my pet peeves is when people complain about a problem, and get all worked up about it, but don't present a possible solution. Sometimes when they do that, they think they are problem-solvers, but really they are problem-pointer-outers. Being a pointer-outer is easier than being a solver. I often fall into that habit, and have to remind myself to either contribute a solution, or shut up.
The thing is, I don't have a solution for every problem, so I contemplate a lot, but don't say much. If, in my contemplations, I come up with something I feel could be a viable solution, I will state it publicly and see what happens. Often, someone will disagree, and sometimes he or she has a more viable and satisfying solution. Sometimes he/she has a less viable and satisfying solution. And sometimes we disagree, but the other individual has no suggestions at all. I listen. I listen carefully, because I want to hear all possible solutions.
Why does it happen that we can see problems, but not solutions? Maybe because solutions are harder to come by. I wonder if people are afraid to think too deeply about issues in our lives and in our world? Are they afraid that, as they search for a solution to the challenges humans face, they will find - nothing? Or maybe they, personally, will have to change? Or do they feel marginalized and as if their thoughts and ideas don't matter? Maybe they just don't want to? Do people not care? Have we opted for the easier road, the wider path of apathy? Or, are we just too darn busy and lazy to engage our brains on a deeper level?
There are a lot of big things happening in the world right now, and there are a lot of problems and issues we all face in our personal lives on a daily basis. I see them pointed out all the time. I am pretty sure we would agree that where there are problems there are solutions - but, often, I think we settle in our lives and our society by allowing others to think for us. We are short-changing humanity when we limit our contributions because we don't take time to think through a problem with the end goal of trying to solve it. We end up reacting in frustration or pain - which often compounds the problems.
I know it can be a scary proposition. My ideas and solutions are rejected all the time. I was told dozens of different ways the Torch would fail. I have to say, though, what I have observed is change in the very people who expected us to fail because our approach to serving our fellow human beings does not follow the conventional non-profit path. They are starting to adapt and change THEIR approaches to line up more with ours. I don't even know if they would admit that or be able to acknowledge it - but it is definitely happening. I believe that is softening the impact on human beings who need help - which is the best reward EVER for me. It was a risky solution, but it has worked.
So, what problems can you solve? What problems can I solve?
Maybe we need a national day set aside for thinking things through.
When you step out in faith and work hard to pursue and build a dream, you learn very quickly that the way is filled with obstacles and challenges. Not only do you have to overcome the limitations your own doubts and fears place on you, you have to stare down those who would seek to discourage you. You have to frequently check your dreams against God's plans, and, often, find your hope for what is to come by remembering what He has already done in your life and with the dreams He placed in your heart.
Choices and decisions constantly have to be weighed, prayed about, and made. Sometimes they work out amazingly well - like when Sarah sent an email to a company which was advertising on Craigslist that they built food trucks. Not only did the gentlemen want to build us a food truck, they wanted to build us the exact food truck we were looking for. AND they kept it in our budget. Crazy and true.
Sometimes, the decisions we make don't work out as well as we hoped they would. We entered a partnership with a start-up non profit organization in which we would share space in their building by renting the kitchen, dining area, and classroom. It was a blessing for us to have the space to teach our summer class. Sarah and I and our volunteers put in hours of work because the building was in pretty rough shape before we moved in - but we got our area looking beautiful and ready. We had a lot of plans and dreams as we pursued a commercial kitchen license so we could use our space as a commissary and serving area for the Torch - while we continued to teach students and grow 180.
As the other organization worked to grow, it became apparent that it would not work for us to continue to rent the kitchen, and so we decided to end the sublease before we licensed the kitchen. For many people, that might have felt like a huge setback, but the people who are behind the Torch and 180 are not like many people. We have rejoiced at the great things that happened this summer. Three of the six students are employed. During the course of the summer, we were nominated to receive a grant for a commercial refrigerator and freezer. We were chosen to receive that grant.
And Sarah and I got a powerful glimpse into the great potential there is to grow 180 so it can impact the people in our community, and beyond. We know we need our very own space. We will be relentless in our prayers, planning and pursuit of the perfect space.
We learned so very much - and look forward to what is coming next. Is closing the door on the sublease disappointing? Yes, it is. Is it debilitating? Absolutely not! There are so many options and opportunities before us. And with God in control - ANYTHING is possible!
So, in case you didn't notice, this is an election year. In light of the fact that the news has been filled with reports from both major parties' national conventions, I guess you would have to be living in a cave not to be aware. I like election years. Have you ever thought about what an amazing privilege we have to participate in influencing the future of our country through voting?
It's amazing. We can form our opinions and cast our votes without fear of retribution or condemnation from our government. Not always without fear of retribution and insults from friends or family, I'm afraid, but even that is one more amazing and great part of being a citizen of this society. We are allowed to think differently. We are allowed to have opinions about how our COUNTRY - the United States of America - is run, and they don't have to be the same as anyone else's! How awesome and special is that?
Do you feel the solemn responsibility that goes along with such a privilege? Contemplating these big thoughts made me feel like this would be a good time to tell you how to vote. Nobody ever really told me how to vote before, so consider this a service from me to you. I remember the very first time I went to the polls when I was 18 years old. I was so excited, and nervous. After I sat down and felt confident I understood how to mark my ballot, I realized I hadn't heard of most of the people or proposals that were listed! I freaked out! It had not occurred to me that I might want to gather some information before I went to the polls.
Those are both significant parts of knowing how to vote - first, make sure you view it as the awesome responsibility and privilege it is, and then, educate yourself about what you will be voting for. There are some steps to this process:
1. Take time to think about all the different issues we face in our world and as a society, both local and national. Really contemplate them, and make a list of the issues that make you feel the most concerned - and those that are very clearly hot topics for the election season.
2. After you know what your concerns are - start doing some research on those issues. Read whatever you can find about them - gather all the information you can. Find out what people are saying from all different perspectives. Think about what they are saying. Consider them in light of the world as you know it. Question them. How would certain policies affect you? How would they affect the people in your life? Those in our society? The world? Think it all through - and figure out for YOURSELF, based on YOUR research, what you think and believe.
3. Think about the candidates who are running. Research them. Read literature from their own parties and from other parties. Try to pick out how they are being spun. Look at their experiences, history, accomplishments, things they have done throughout the years that were newsworthy. Find out how their beliefs line up with yours. Remember, there are more people who are running for offices or positions than just the president. Research all those who pertain to where you live.
4. Record what you find out. Write all the issues down - and what you think about them. Write what you discover about the candidates. Think some more as you decide how you will vote.
5. Make a list of how you will vote on all the different issues and in all the races. Take it with you to the polls so you don't forget or get bogged down.
And there you have it! In order to vote, you have to know what you value, educate yourself, research, and apply your critical thinking skills. It might seem like a lot of work, but when you consider the enormous responsibility and privilege it is to vote, it really isn't.
That's how to vote. Exactly what you thought this blog would be about, right? I mean, I did say "how to vote", not "who to vote for"...
Happy Election Season!!!
My second beautiful and perfect grand daughter was born last week. I just love those two little girls so much. My older grand daughter is eight months old, and during these past months I have realized a lot of things about being a grandparent and being a parent.
For one thing, I am glad I am not parenting these girls in the society we live in today. So much about this world makes it really difficult to use the "N" word with children. And I don't mean the racist "N" word. THAT'S just plain old hate-filled ignorance, and the word should be obliterated from our vocabulary - another blog, another time. I'm talking about the "N" word that is spelled N-O. Yes. That one.
We live in a permissive society in which parents often don't seem to feel comfortable telling their children "no". I never had that problem. I used every form of it - no you can't, no you won't, no I won't let you, nope, uh-uh, ain't gonna happen and etc..
I watched a mom in a store earlier today, struggling with a youngster who was grabbing things off the shelf and putting them in her basket. Instead of telling him no, she was trying to sneak the items back out and put them on a shelf. I'm guessing she didn't want to put up with the ensuing fit if she had stopped him in his tracks with the "N" word.
My eight month old grand daughter is getting to the age where she will need to hear that word. Possibly a lot. She is a little sweetie, but she also has a mind of her own - and that means when she is told no she is not going to like it one bit. And she will likely be very vocal about her disapproval. But even if she is vocal and gets mad and throws embarrassing fits, we will all still need to stand our ground and make sure no means no.
Seriously, the world is full of "nos". And if children don't learn how to accept them and move on when they are young, how will they cope when they are grown? When I was looking for a job a few years ago, I had a lot of interviews, and I was rejected repeatedly. Yes, there were times it made me cry in frustration, and it often felt unfair and like I was being discriminated against - but in the end I accepted the nos and moved on to the next opportunity. What I ended up with was far better than any of the previous jobs. And I was also a much stronger person for working through my disappointment.
There are a lot of things kids don't need. They don't have to try every new Oreo that comes out. They don't need televisions in their rooms. They don't need a cell phone until they are old enough to drive. Yup. You heard that right. It's okay to say no to that. Well, not really in our society. Middle schoolers and younger have cell phones now, but that doesn't make it right.
Only one of my four children got a cell phone in middle school. I was completely against it, but I got outvoted 2 to 1, and that child got a cell phone. A week after the cell phone was in the child's possession - I saw a text from a person of the opposite sex - it said, "I love you." My child had responded, "I love you, too."
I called my child to me and said, "No. No, you don't love somebody of the opposite sex at 12 years old. It isn't possible for you to experience the range of emotions and commitment that goes along with loving somebody. So, no, you don't. You must end that relationship."
And that child did, unhappily. And life went on.
I could never have parented my kids without the "N" word at my disposal.
Let's hear it for NO!!!!!!!
It isn't easy to live a life of truth and honesty, especially in this society. For one thing, people seem to be afraid to admit there is such a thing as truth. We seem to pretend that anything can be true as long as someone wants it to be. But, the reality is there are certain things that are true and honest and should be acknowledged.
One thing that is true is that all people matter. If we are honest, we don't always act like we believe that. Nor do we treat people like that is a truth. Sometimes, we assume we are better than other people, which is not true. We are different, but not better. Sometimes we assume other people are better than us. Also not true. Others might be better at some things, but that doesn't make them better people. And it doesn't make them matter more. All people matter. Period. Inarguable truth.
Another true and honest fact is that sometimes humans make mistakes. Sometimes people are wrong. Sometimes I am wrong. Sometimes you are wrong. That's the truth. We tend to not make allowances for that. We can be way too hard on others and way too hard on ourselves. I think that fosters a fear of being wrong, and people lie in order to save face. It's not a safe society in which to make a mistake. It's not easy to live out that truth.
It is also true that we need community. We need other people in our lives. But we have become conditioned to staying behind closed doors and windows. We tell ourselves it is enough to concern ourselves only with our families, co-workers, and maybe some friends - and we have convinced ourselves what happens to the rest of the people around us does not affect our lives. Not true. What happens to other people in this society affects our lives, even if we pretend it doesn't. When people are isolated or bullied or hurting or lonely, they can be driven to do crazy things to themselves or others. And every time we ignore our community, we erode our society a little bit more.
And that's the last thing this society needs.
In 2012, Sarah and I made a choice. It was a significant choice that would change our lives forever, although we didn't fully realize it at the time. In 2012, we chose to start the Torch. When we started the Torch there were more odds against us than for us. I had only recently filed bankruptcy and my self esteem was nowhere to be found. Sarah was still unemployed, although she was going to school and working hard to complete her education. Both of us had been homeless just a year and a half before.
So, we made the choice to launch the Torch even though so many things indicated we would not, could not, succeed. We chose to do it because it felt right to us. It was time to take a leap of faith, after all, when you have nothing to offer - faith is everything. We sent in our incorporation paperwork, and applied for the nonprofit status. In an amazing two months, both were completed and accepted and the Torch was officially born.
Throughout the past few years we have occasionally doubted our sanity for making the choice. We have cried buckets of tears, had seriously painful disagreements, and been told repeatedly that our plan just won't work. Our support from others has been up and down. We have been criticized for everything from our food to how we utilize our helpers.
I have nearly knocked myself out when I banged my head on the gas can holder on the back of the truck. Sarah has been burned repeatedly on the grill. We have been bumped and bruised and torn. But we made the choice to do this, and we own that. And even though it sometimes feels like the dumbest choice ever, we know in our hearts it wasn't.
Because in the midst of the chaos and hurts there have been the most amazing highs we have ever known. Huge donations have come in that encouraged and lifted us. People have thanked us and, even better, told us that we bring hope. We have discovered how to help form community, and how, even though we didn't bring much to the table, our lives could make a difference. And we can stand tall and tell others that their lives can make a difference as well.
We have met amazingly wonderful, helpful people during this adventure. We have learned how important it is to always get back up when we get knocked down. We have discovered resilience, strength and wisdom we didn't know we had. We have learned how to keep a propane tank going, and how to run a generator. We have also learned how to ask for help when we need it - that one is kindof difficult.
I know sometimes running the Torch and 180 feels a bit overwhelming, but those times pass, and life is good. If you ever find yourself at a crossroads and you have a choice to make about following a dream - no matter how impossible it might seem - give it a go. Although it might get difficult and discouraging, it can also be amazing and wonderful. The Torch is a choice I am so glad we made.
There is something to be said for losing everything. That's not to say it's fun. That's not to say I recommend it. But what I will say is, like everything else in life, there is much to be learned from no longer having resources which are easily accessed and dispensed.
For many years of my life I did not lack for anything. There was always an abundance of food in the cupboards. There was always a car or two or three or four in the driveway. There were always more clothes than my closet could hold. There was always a house to live in. There were things to do, places to go, and people to see. My life was busy and full of things. And when I would see or hear about somebody who didn't have many things, I would feel sorry for him or her, and say a prayer for them - and sometimes even throw a buck or two their way.
I used to tell myself and others that I would be fine without the things I had, that they were blessings and I appreciated them, but if I lost them I would still be okay. But to be honest, in a deeper part of me, I would pray that I would never have to actually find out if I would truly be okay - because I enjoyed having my things. The reality was, I could not imagine my life without conveniences and possessions.
Then, in a matter of literally a few weeks, I lost pretty much everything. I fled from my home taking my car, a few clothes in a suitcase, and my daughter. We were homeless for nine months, and, at first, I discovered I really wasn't okay. I quickly had to learn how to ask for, and accept, help from other people who were sometimes nice and sometimes not. That humiliated me. I had to watch my spending closely - and make judgments about whether I should purchase gas so I could get to work, or food so we could eat. Or maybe purchase food for my daughter and a little gas.
I had to work with the few outfits I had with me, and creatively sort them and change them around so it looked like I was wearing different clothes every day when I went to work. I slept on couches, and tried to make myself invisible as we imposed on friends to take us in, and give us a place to stay. For the first time in my life, bad tires on my car appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle - and I learned you could purchase them used.
It was challenging, scary, and depressing. But at the same time, it was enlightening, empowering and freeing. I learned I could make decisions in spite of enormous mental pressure. I learned I didn't need a closet full of clothes. I learned it is much easier to live a life free of the responsibilities that come with too many possessions, commitments and things. I learned even though I could not imagine a day would come when I would be thankful for all my losses, the day did come and I can give thanks.
I learned it is okay to need other people. I learned that truly the darkest time of day comes right before the dawn, and that applies to life as well as time. I learned that I am a far stronger woman than I ever gave myself credit for. I learned that the things that scared me most were things I could conquer. I learned how important it is not to judge others for their situations, and that simply throwing money at a person who is hurting and in need is, quite frequently, not the thing they need the most.
Losing everything is not an experience I would wish on anyone, but I don't regret that it happened to me.