I recently had the chance to see the movie - “The Theory of Everything”. It is a movie about the life of Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author of “A Brief History of Time”. I enjoyed the movie, but I was profoundly struck by the fact that, without Jane Wilde by his side, Hawking’s life story would have played out quite differently. It got me thinking about the women I know and have known throughout my lifetime. So many have touched my life in so many ways.
Sometimes they have reflected the values of the world in ways that have made my heart sad. Once, I was talking with a friend after a holiday break. She was telling me about the conversation she and her siblings had had with her parents. She said that her mom was so cool because she had told them if she ever needed to be cared for in her old age, she did not want them to inconvenience their lives by taking her in - they could just put her in a home somewhere and she would not complain. Her dad, on the other hand, was the difficult one. He told them he would expect them to take care of him. The contrast in my friend’s attitude about her parents depressed me. She saw nothing wrong with expressing the fact that she did not think she or her siblings should be expected to inconvenience or change their lives if and when their parents needed caring for in their old age. She felt like her dad was unreasonable, selfish, and demanding. Her parents were not any where near old enough for the family to be facing those decisions yet, but what a commentary on our society. That conversation comes to mind repeatedly when I think about one of my heroes, and, actually a Torch board member, Linda B..
In 1993, Linda’s mother, Inez Rothert, began having health issues with her stomach. She was 78 years old, and Linda and her family convinced her it was time she stopped living on her own. Inez was actually born and grew up in Arkansas, but met a “Northerner” and fell in love. When she was 78 she was living in Iowa, and it was there she made the decision to move to Michigan. Linda and her husband, Steve, added a mother-in-law suite to their home for Inez. Upon arriving in Michigan, she went to the doctor who prescribed her an antibiotic and Pepto Bismol - and she recovered from her stomach troubles shortly thereafter.
For the past 22 years, Inez has been a Howell resident and has been well taken care of by her daughter Linda. Don’t get me wrong - Steve has been a great help, as well, but Linda’s dedication to being there for her mom stands out in such stark contrast to my other friend’s attitude which tends to reflect our society’s standards. Linda is an amazing lady. She made a selfless decision that most definitely inconvenienced her life. When she decided Inez should move in, she had no idea what the future might hold, yet she did not let worries or fears of the unknown stop her from doing what she knew was the right thing to do.
Last July, Inez turned 100 years old, which means she is now 100.5 years old!
I can’t help but think about how different her life could have been, if Linda had not been willing to “inconvenience her life”, and give her mother a place to live for these many years. I feel blessed to know Linda, and to have her in my life showing me what it looks like to be a hero. Whenever I tell her that she is my hero, she replies, “I’m no hero.”
It seems like the true heroes often don’t see it in themselves - but the rest of us do.
100.5 years on this earth. Amazing.
One of the most remarkable perks of being human is the array of choices we are faced with which determine the course of our lives. Have you ever thought about how amazing that is? There are some choices we are not always entirely in control of - such as with food. If you are a person who is struggling with finances, you tend to find yourself making some less-than-healthy food choices in an attempt to save money. But, if you can afford to make your grocery selections according to you personal preferences - your choices tend to reflect who you are. And how much you eat is also your choice. We choose our clothes, our friends, our lifestyles, and pretty much our life circumstances and experiences tend to be a result of the choices we make.
One of the biggest, and most significant choices we make has to do with attitudes. I have learned from all my many years of living, that I have tremendous control over the attitude I choose. And my attitude can greatly influence those around me, as well. I realized this a long time ago when somebody commented to me that I was always expecting the worst to happen. That surprised me. I didn’t think of myself that way, but after it was pointed out to me I realized I did! I had a very negative outlook and attitude about life. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism, but even so, it was not a good way to be. That was a reality I did not enjoy facing, but I am glad for the constructive criticism. I didn’t want to grow old and be a sour old woman who pointed out the negative side of every situation and circumstance.
There really isn’t much more draining in this world than people who jump to the most dire conclusions - crying doom and gloom as soon as life takes an unexpected turn. It seems like we quickly lose sight of the blessings we have when the unknown looms. Some people turn on those who love them, and unleash their rancid negativity with a vengeance. That sounds dramatic, but I have dealt with a multitude of people through my many jobs and volunteer experiences - and I have seen negativity destroy relationships and families. Let’s face it - who wants to be around that? Not me. Not anyone, I don’t think.
And the sad reality is - we can choose our attitudes. And attitudes are free, so with or without money an attitude can be good or an attitude can be bad. That’s what I discovered years ago. I didn’t want to be the negative angry person who dragged the room down. I didn’t want my first thoughts to be how terrible everything was in life- and just how bad my current situation could become. So, I worked very hard to change that part of me. I began with prayer, which is the only way I have ever been able to change anything I needed to work on. There are some great Bible verse that discuss attitudes. For example:
Philippians 2:14-15 - Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky…
And Proverbs 17:22 - A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
There is no indication in either of those verses that makes me think my attitude just happens and there is nothing I can do about it. I would far rather “Shine among them like stars in the sky” than have dried up bones, and I can choose which one I want.
Most definitely it is not always easy to choose to stay positive, especially in a world that seems to thrive on the negative. That obsession with negativity doesn’t make sense, either, because people seem to always be chasing after happiness - and hoping to find it in so many ways, while at the same time drinking in negative news and information. But happiness is not to be chased. Happiness is to be chosen, and negativity does not have to rule us. We can choose not to be influenced by the Negative Nancys and Downer Dans out there. It’s not easy, but, quite often, doing the right thing is not easy, either. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
I challenge myself all the time to turn my attitude around. Sometimes that means I need to avoid people and things that drag me down, but I am better off for doing that. Sometimes I have to separate myself from everything, and just be alone with God so I can assess my life. Every single time I make that effort, things get brighter and my perspective changes because I have so many blessings, and the world is truly a wonderful place to be! Whatever it takes, I will continue to choose to be happy, and I will work hard to choose to be positive. Because my choice of attitude shapes the person I am. And it is truly my CHOICE!
In the last blog I shared, I revealed a crisis in my heart. I was hurting, and struggling to find my way around the hurt. I was tired, and longing for an opportunity to rest. I spent this weekend resting, and praying, and thinking about The Torch, and my life. I stopped and dissected the words and sentences and phrases that were flung at me last week, and I considered the sources, the motives, and the reasons why people would want to tear me, and The Torch, down. Instead of trying get around the hurt, I dove right in and let it hurt as I prayed and sought strength from God. I let myself rest, which I rarely do. I might be the least lazy person I know - and that’s not fake, it’s been who I am my whole life. But this weekend I was lazy. Yet in my laziness, I was productive, because I focused on God, and hope and forgiveness toward others.
This morning, I woke up and read an interesting, yet gruesome, story in my Bible. Read Judges 19, and you will know what I mean. I really need to read through chapter 21 to get to the conclusion of that story, but I stopped because I wanted to contemplate what happened, and to try to understand why a story like that is in the Bible. It made me sad because it depicts people without hope. It shows how deeply we can plunge into things that harm ourselves and others as we try to satisfy our inner hopelessness. It demonstrates what happens when we don’t see people as people, but rather as a means to an end, or, even worse, as having lives without worth. The woman in the story was a person. The Levite was a person. The depraved people of the city were people. All were human beings whose lives have infinite value to God. And yet, they had lost their way. And a life was horribly taken and destroyed as if it never counted. There is a very powerful source of evil in this world, and if those who don’t want it to thrive just stand down and give up, it will continue to grow strong.
I was struck by all of those thoughts as I contemplated that story. People need hope. People need to be valued and loved, no matter who they are. They matter. As I worked my way through the struggles of the past week, but in reality the negativity that has pummeled me throughout the past few years, I began to soften again and to understand the source of the discouragement and hatred that comes my way. I have been able to pray for them, and to find peace in my heart which allows me to let go of their discouraging words and once again cling to the joy and hope that The Torch represents.
I am not a quitter. I received a very clear and powerful reminder of that this morning. He gave me a sign, if you will. It put a smile on my face, actually brought forth a chuckle, and flooded my heart with joy as I realized God was revealing Himself to me in a way I did not expect. I have no lofty ideas that I am some super-special-super-hero, even though we play around with that concept with our Torch woman. I have no misguided ideas that that I am superior to anyone I help or who helps with what we are doing at the Torch.
The events of the past week have served to remind me why I carry the Torch, and why I can’t give up. I carry The Torch because human lives matter. I carry the Torch because YOU matter. I carry The Torch because I can - in spite of my weaknesses, frailties, mistakes and blunders - I can carry on. I carry the Torch because you can, too. I carry The Torch because people need hope, and it is never too late to change a life. I carry the Torch because love matters, compassion matters. I carry the Torch because I am not satisfied with the status-quo. I carry the Torch because maybe I can ignite a spark in you to pick up a torch and move forward with your dreams. I carry the Torch because food brings people together. I carry the Torch because it represents hope, and moving forward and never, ever, giving up even though sometimes I will stumble and fall. I carry the Torch on in spite of the opposition and negativity. I carry the Torch because of the opposition and negativity. I'm here. I'm staying. If I fall I will get back up, and I will continue to carry the Torch. So, just in case you read my previous blog, and you are wondering...I will continue to carry the Torch.
For most of my life I have been able to find the positive and good in people and circumstances. I have looked at my haters, and discouragers, and worked with insolent teenagers, and been able to soften my heart and search for something positive to say, and believe, about them. I have a collection in my heart, and in my life, of people who society discarded and threw away - I have seen the good that often hides beneath a facade of anger and pain. Loving people, believing in hope, and finding the positive are ingrained in my personality and make up who I am. I have endured circumstances that make me cringe, and that seem unbelievable, even to me, in the retelling now. But always, always, I have tried hard not to be the person who brings the room down, not to be the negative one. There are many good aspects to living life that way. I believe I am healthier, happier, and more easily fulfilled than many others. But, there are also downsides. It can be very difficult for me to give up on anyone, or anything.
I love The Torch. I love the concept of what we have tried to do with The Torch. Did you know from the beginning of this endeavour, I have been bombarded with reasons why I should not do The Torch? People have an innate desire, sometimes, to crush other people’s dreams. I was told it would never work. We would never be able to get a food truck. We would never be able to fund a food truck. Nobody would come to a food truck for free food. Everybody would come to a food truck for free food, just to take advantage of us. I’ve been told politely, and rudely, in a million different ways I was just setting myself up to be taken advantage of. I was told I should not do it because there are enough nonprofit organizations already. I was politely threatened by a nonprofit organization that I better not ever take donations meant for them and use them for the Torch. I was told my efforts would fail. I have stood up and said I think the nonprofit world in the US has a wrong approach, that when salaries are tied up in donations, we are on a slippery slope. And I have been criticized and accused of not understanding, and told I will not succeed with The Torch. And for over two years, I have brushed off the negativity, and pushed on because I believed so strongly in what I was doing. I wanted so badly to bring hope to people. I wanted my life to make a difference.
And maybe my pride has gotten in the way.
This has been a rough week of criticism, and I have to admit, I am very very tired. Today I was told the Torch is a failure, and for the first time since I started pursuing this - I feel crushed. Tonight I drove over to the warehouse where the truck has been parked for the winter. We never officially named it, but in my mind, I call her Torchy. I went to visit Torchy this evening. I walked through her, and sat in the front seat on the driver’s side. Although I have never driven her, I have sat there to rest many, many times since we brought her home. Torchy is the culmination of a dream and the representation of hope for me.
I just sat there until I was chilled to the bone, and thought, and started to wonder if maybe the critics are right. Maybe I just don’t understand, and I am blind to the fact that I am really not helping - because I just try to see the good. Maybe, in my desire to succeed, pride has overcome my ability to be objective. The Torch was never meant to be about me, but maybe I have made it about me.
And now, I just don’t know. It is a time for me to pray. To think. To contemplate. To pull in the reins, consider deeply the wisdom and direction for the Torch. I cannot push forward just convincing myself it is right and it is good, if it truly is not. I care so much about everyone who has been involved with the Torch. I pray for the helpers, the people I get to serve, the generous sponsors and donors, and the friends I have made. I truly believe in hope, and I believe there is hope for everyone. And I don’t really care if people take advantage of me - but find hope along the way. What I do care about is doing the right thing, staying on the right path, and standing up for what is right - not for what makes me look right.
I am human. I am tired. And I am seeking direction.
So the holidays are over and it’s a new year. It always feels a bit sad when the holidays end, especially here in Michigan with the daunting thoughts of a long cold winter looming. There is definitely a different feeling in the air at Christmastime. People remark on it all the time - a certain joy, and well wishes for those around us. And organizations like the Salvation Army have capitalized greatly on the charitable feelings with their red kettle campaign, which generated $135.9 million last year alone. Then there is the Christmas music - so cheerful and familiar. The novelty of only hearing it during the Christmas season makes it so much more special. Christmas movies abound as well. I watched two versions of A Christmas Carol this year. I grew up watching that movie, but I must say, now that I have tasted a life in poverty, it strikes a chord deep within me. Scrooge’s attitude towards those in need at the beginning of the story, compared with his life-changing metamorphosis by the end is poignant.
When the story begins, Scrooge does not even realize there is a problem with his attitude. I can relate to that. He was a hard worker, took care of his own needs, did not ask for anyone else to help him out, and, therefore, did not feel like it was his responsibility to take care of others. After all, they were poor because they were lazy and didn’t want to work, right? They were selfish and just wanted a hand out. They were troublemakers who belonged in prison. There were workhouses around to which the poor could go. They would be separated as families, but they would have food and a place to sleep, a church service on Sundays, and maybe a bit of work. At least it was something, so they should be grateful for it. They were poor, and couldn’t expect more. Treat them like people? With dignity? Nope, Scrooge felt the world would be better off if the poor just died, to “decrease the surplus population”. That would make it much easier not to think about them, wouldn’t it? Until I walked in those shoes, I rarely thought about people in need - mostly at Christmas.
So what turns Scrooge around? He is visited by the spirits - and goes on a journey. That journey takes him to the other side. He gets to see the world from the eyes of those in poverty. He gets a glimpse into the other side, and thinks about what it might feel like to be in those shoes. He realizes he is living, but he is not alive - and that being alive encompasses caring about the lives of the people around him. He learns how important it is to try to make a difference for the people he comes in contact with, and how beautiful and precious it is to give and care. He understands the importance of bringing joy and hope and happiness into the world, and he decides he will use his resources to do so. The story ends with Scrooge a changed man who “knew how to keep Christmas well”.
A Christmas Carol captures the essence of the Christmas spirit that people are drawn to and that causes so many to love the season - and to drop their spare change in the red kettle. That spirit of love and generosity does not have to disappear with the Christmas decorations. I don’t think it should. I do think we don’t realize how the spirit of Scrooge tends to dictate our lives when it is not Christmastime. Our indifference to the pain of those around us, and our desire to always protect ourselves from being inconvenienced by getting involved prevails in a society in which independence is worshiped. Our lack of sensitivity to, and ignorance about people in need is a sad commentary of our inability to connect as human beings.
I think many Christians have been drawn into a comfortable mindset that God is running a political party in the United States, and politics dictate their faith. I don’t think He wants us to run our lives according to a politician's words or proposals. We cannot legislate love and understanding, hope and peace. We can’t. Those come from within, and have to be demonstrated. Blindly jumping on a voter's bandwagon just because it comes from the right speaker shows the height of ignorance of God’s words.
Don’t underestimate the power of influential words populated with catchy Christian phrases and Bible verses. Yes, your vote matters, but your life is what counts. One example is the popular posts about testing people for drugs before qualifying them for food stamps. Really? I understand not liking the current system, but people using drugs are not the problem with the food stamp system. A selfish society that has allowed the government to try to do what compassion should dictate to abdicate its own responsibilities as human beings - not to mention the many Biblical commands to Christians - is the problem.
We are so comfortable in our role as judges, that the attitude of Scrooge prevails and that makes Christmas all that much more delightful because, for once, people act like they care. What if we did that all year around? What if we tried to understand where other people are coming from? Sarah and I came under fire one time for helping a young man. We were told he was lazy, and a liar, and on and on and on. Weird. I don’t know if that is one of those “only in America” types of situations, but, seriously? If a person is lazy, or a liar, or a drug abuser, or any of those things, there is a reason. Something in has happened in that lifetime to put that person where he or she is.
Maybe an act of kindness could help break through that - and allow that person a glimmer of hope for change. Or maybe, being treated like an important member of the human race can help others who have been beat down to stand a little taller, and find the strength to try again to change their circumstances. We can’t give up on people, and we can’t wait for others to do something - we can change the world for those around us, and it’s not just by throwing some money at the problem once in awhile, or showing up occasionally to a church activity to help the poor. We need to put ourselves out there, to listen, to care, to be present in the problem - and use our gifts of intelligence and compassion to try to come up with solutions, and to be supportive of those whose needs are the greatest.
We could make it feel like Christmas all year around.