What’s your story?
Everybody’s life has a story. We all have experienced moments in time which were pivotal in making us who we are, and in bringing us to the places we are at in life right now. What is yours? I think it is important to take stock of the events of our lives, and to pinpoint in brutal honesty the things that have formed our view of ourselves, the world, and others. Sometimes, they are things we have pushed aside, and just hoped they would go away as time passed. Sometimes, they are painful memories of things people did to us when we were younger. Sometimes, they are painful memories of things we did to others, and we would prefer to sweep them under the rug and pretend they never happened. The problem is, once things happen, the consequences don’t go away just because we refuse to think about them.
I think back over my life and I acknowledge the were many significant things that happened to me which have brought me to where I am now. There are things I did when I was a teenager that sometimes I regret today, but when I look back over those years, I see how I am who I am because, or in spite of, the choices and decisions of a lifetime ago. Can I go back and change the past? No. Would I, if I could? I don’t know. My story would be different, and even though I didn't have the perfect childhood, and I was far from being a perfect teenager, all the experiences I had taught me tremendous lessons. I think about the shy, insecure young person I was, the one who followed the crowd in hopes of finding acceptance and peace, and I feel for her, just as my heart softens towards the teens and young people I meet today who trying hard to find their places in this world.
I struggled mightily with anorexia, and I remember the morning reality struck, and I actually thought I might really have an eating disorder. My mom was pitching a fit as I got ready for work because I didn't want breakfast. I rarely ate, and when I did, I had long periods of anxiety worrying about where the fat would appear on my body. I had gone from 130 pounds to 105 in just a few months. At 5’6, 105 is not a healthy weight. Mom actually chased me around the house with a piece of toast I didn't want, and as I went out the front door, ignoring her, she threw the toast at my back, and started to cry. That got my attention, because we didn't really talk much, and I hardly felt like part of the family anymore, and frankly, I was surprised. That she would be concerned enough to cry caused me to start thinking seriously about the fact I might need some help getting my eating habits back on track. Now, as I look at a nation that struggles with weight issues in so many ways, I sympathize with people who get caught in that battle.
I reflect on life as a teenage mom, and remember letting go of the dream of becoming a doctor, as I realized the grave responsibility I had of raising the children I loved so incredibly much. Instead, I spent eighteen years pursuing an Associate’s degree, working, and raising children. The day I received that degree in the mail is marked indelibly in my mind. I vowed the time would come when I would continue my education, although that day seemed unbelievably far away at that moment. I had no idea how or when, but I distinctly remember saying I would do it - and I did eventually, but my dreams of pursuing a career as a physician were long gone by the time I went back. I aimed for something more practical, and which would place far less demands on me to obtain. Yet now, I see the myriad ways the education I got helps me, and I am grateful for the path I ended up on.
I spent many years of my life living mostly trying hard to not make other people angry. I learned how quickly people will take advantage of that, and how brutal they can be. Living in fear and dread is not living, but having the courage to change a lifetime is nearly as frightening. I know now who I am created to be, and how I should be treated by others. I also know how fragile people can become, and how easily they can be damaged. I have seen there is restoration and healing and hope available to everyone - no matter how they got to where they are.
Regrets? Yes, my story has some regrettable actions and decisions, and sometimes pain and fear, but there were also many wonderful moments of joy and hope. And my heart is not full of regret. I see how all the events of my life are woven together into a story nobody else could live, because it is mine. Yours is, too. Think about it. Own it. Release any regrets and bitterness you might have. It’s your story, it’s important because you lived it and now you are who you are. Maybe you will identify a pattern you don’t like. The beauty of life is that it can be changed. Your story can be changed. Maybe you will gain insight and understanding as to why you are the way you are. Learn from it - and share it so others can learn as well…
What is your story?
A religious leader once asked Jesus: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).
Everything hinges on loving God, and loving people. It’s a huge and scary commitment to take on, and you don’t have to love my God, or even believe in my God for me to love you. You just have to be a person. I think some Christians are better at loving people than others are, but that doesn't let anyone off the hook. Frankly, it scares me a little bit as my faith gets stronger and I travel further along this spiritual pathway. I know who I am, and my flaws, imperfections, and weaknesses, and I know how quick I am to judge sometimes, and I realize letting all that love in and out is a lot of work. I have to be diligent in guarding my heart, and keeping myself in check.
I don’t always even know how to love. It is truly a lot of work. There have been people in my life who I have come pretty close to hating, actually. There are all kinds of jokes out there about loving your haters because they helped you get where you are. I do believe I am a stronger person because of the difficult people in my life, but I usually appreciate them in a sarcastic, rather than loving, way. Yet, I am commanded to love, so I have to commit myself to forgiving them and finding peace so I can love. That is one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to do. It is a struggle I may face my whole life, but that doesn't mean I stop trying, and it doesn't mean I just decide to ignore my feelings and go on with my life. I am told to love people, so I have to figure it out. There is no room for bitterness and revenge in love.
We get a lot of messages from a lot of different people at The Torch. I pray for many, many people - often they are people I don’t know personally, or I am just acquainted with them. I find as I pray for people, love for them grows and I become concerned for them. Some people have very heartbreaking stories, and I contemplate those and work hard to understand their lives and their humanity. Sometimes I stop working in the food truck, and I look out over the crowd of people, and I pray for a heart of love and compassion. It’s easy to love the people we know well, much more difficult when we don’t know them at all.
When we love someone, really love him or her, we put ourselves out there and take risks to support that individual, because we want the best possible outcome . Working to love others has caused me to realize the importance of setting aside my comfort zones, and making sacrifices in my own life so I can do more for them. It has also softened my heart towards God, and allowed me to experience faith as He moves mountains and helps me to show love in a world that pretty much rejects it in favor of self. Let’s face it, you can’t be selfish and really love others. If you love your family and 100% of your concern is always with taking care of them, that is fine, but don’t tell me you love others when nothing you do shows it. We are called to love more than just our families. We are called to love people as much as we love ourselves. That's huge, and frightening.
Loving others is scary, because taking risks is scary. And to love others we often have to take risks. I have huge burdens on my heart for some next steps for The Torch. There is no way we can accomplish them ourselves, but we so passionately want to show an undeniable love and hope to this world we are asking God to move a lot of mountains. I often find myself living with just a little bit of fear deep in the pit of my stomach when it comes to The Torch, because taking steps of faith and striving to love people is often unnerving. I am certainly not the person I would have chosen to lead the way as we blaze this trail, but I am going to do my best to show the world what happens when you love God and love people.
Hope is what happens. I promise you there is no situation, no person, who is completely hopeless. She might be frustrating. He might be infuriating. She might be hurtful. He might be spiteful. She might be depressing. But nobody is completely hopeless. People are here for us, for me, to love. I can’t love people and believe in hope for them if I am too busy judging them or making excuses to not get involved with their lives. I know I will never love as perfectly as God loves. But I do know I am trying to develop faith in God that teaches me and leads me to the point where I lose all my fears and take all the risks He sets before me to show people how valuable they are and how important it is they never give up hope.
Read these words over and over again:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”
Think about what they mean. Let them soak into your life. Examine your heart and who you are. Take risks. Love. Love. Love.
One early morning, Sarah posted a random status update on The Torch Facebook page. She said:
2am thoughts...so many people out there need help and can't get it for one reason or another. Agencies are over extended, they don't qualify, etc. What if we loved each other so radically people no longer had to go to agencies for help? What if we just helped each other out? What if we did with less so others could have more? What if we judged less and helped more?
One of our followers answered, “Then people wouldn't feel so completely lost.”
That comment resonated with me. What a painful life to walk around this earth feeling completely lost. There have been a few times in my life when I felt lost and completely alone - even though there were people with me. I keep thinking how Sarah’s words shouldn't paint a picture of a Utopian world - that post should not have been a profound status which elicited such a deep response from a reader. This is a very tough world to live in. The struggle to survive beyond existence and to pursue the American dream often takes precedence over everything else. Yet it is possible, even if you appear to be achieving the dream life, to feel completely lost. We are a society which verbalizes the importance of people over material possessions, but in reality, our possessions quite often rank far higher in value than the lives of the human beings whose paths we cross.
We don’t love people. Most of the time we don’t even try to muster the tiniest bit of affection for anyone who is not a part of our immediate circle of family and friends. We snarl and swear and curse at the idiots cutting us off in traffic. We often snicker behind the backs of those who are different from us. One time I was on a school trip - with a bunch of eighth graders. We were standing in line to visit the place we were at. It was a very long line, with an hour wait. We were near a park, and there was a homeless man sleeping on a bench in the park. A large group of students decided it would be funny to go pose all around him and take pictures. They were cracking themselves up. Most of the adults in the group were watching them and laughing, too. I told the students to knock it off, but they didn't listen, after all, their mockery was being affirmed by the other adults in the group. None of those individuals saw a homeless MAN there. They saw an object, something abstract and unrelated to them which provided a humorous photo op.
So, who was more completely lost? The man who slept on the bench in the park where thousands of strangers passed by uncaring? Or the teens and adults who had no capacity to care - who mocked instead? I don’t know if it is worse to be completely lost in this world and not even recognize it, or to fully know it and fully give up. Both are equally lost. Both are in need of some radical love.
I don’t think what Sarah and I have done with The Torch should be an exception, it should be the rule. We should all try to love more. We should try to figure out how to radically love, to the point where it inconveniences our lives and affects our pocketbooks. Our love should be so radical we lose sleep over trying to figure out how to do more. We should walk around focusing our attention on the needs of other people. So what if we have to get up early? So what if we already have to work all day, and then find ourselves committed to helping others at night? So what if we really would prefer to save our money to purchase things for ourselves? So what?
Radical love should overcome all those obstacles. Radical love should open our eyes to see there are people walking around completely lost. Radical love should allow us to do with less so others can have more. Radical love should soften our hearts, and overwhelm us with compassion. Radical love should fill us with a desire to make life easier for others. Radical love should not let anyone we come in contact with continue to feel completely lost. Radical love should make our hearts beat with passion to change from a materialistic, selfish, cliquey society - to a community of sharing, acceptance, and wholeness.
Radical love shouldn't be radical. It should be the only kind of love there is. Especially if you call yourself a Christian.
Yesterday was a very long day. I left the house at 7:00 AM and returned around 9:30 PM. Then I went for a walk. I was so tired when I finally went to bed last night - I planned I would be sleeping late today since I didn’t have any meetings or anything else scheduled. I woke up once early in the morning and refused to look at the clock, just turned over and went right back to sleep. I woke up again somewhat later, and was sure it had to be at least 8:00, which is quite late for me. I blinked several times when I looked at my watch - because it couldn’t possibly say 6:29, could it?
For crying out loud. I felt tired still! I was determined to sleep a little later. I closed my eyes. And I laid there, becoming more wide awake by the minute. I finally couldn’t stand lying still any longer, so I got up. And I went for a run. But I have been pondering all morning about how planning doesn’t always work out how I - well - plan for it to.
Take The Torch, for example. We spent hours planning how it would look and what we would do, first on a napkin, and then more formally. We planned how other organizations might get involved with us. We planned how our events would look. We planned the services we would offer. We planned and planned and planned all those essential logistical items long before we actually even had a food truck. Then we got the truck - and things became so real, and often we found we had to abandon the original plan and go with an alternative which would work so much better. The Torch doesn’t look exactly like those initial plans and dreams did. We have been surprised that, while we planned to partner with other non-profit organizations, we have actually found far more fulfilling, enriching, and helpful partnerships with small businesses of all things. Our events look similar to what we planned, yet they are always far better than what we anticipate. And, while we have been able to offer many of the services we originally planned to offer, we have not offered them in the way we envisioned. There are a few things we planned that we have not been able to do yet, but we know the time will come when they will happen, and they might not look exactly how we planned.
Life can be like that, as well. Nobody plans to be homeless, or jobless. Nobody plans to have a fall out with family, and lose that familial connection. Nobody plans for life to crash and friends to turn on them. Nobody plans to endure a nasty, painful divorce. Nobody plans to lose loved ones. Nobody plans to find him or herself mired in a sea of hopelessness. Those things are just not in the plans, but they happen. And, unfortunately, in this organized, scheduled, plan-filled society, when those things happen to people there tends to be a lack of sympathy. After all, if people planned better, they could avoid all those bad things, right? You would think so. It seems logical.
So - I am wondering something. Did you believe the story that swept through Facebook recently about a little girl who was severely mauled by her grandfather’s pit-bulls? As the story went, according to her grandmother, she took the child to a local KFC and they were asked to leave because the child’s disfigured face was “scaring the customers”. An aunt put the story on a Facebook page and, of course it went viral, and there was an outcry against such cruelty and an outpouring of money from people all over the country, and even outside the country. The last I heard, the family had received $135,000 in donations. Well, apparently it was some kind of media stunt as an investigation was launched and the whole story unraveled - the grandmother and child never even ate at a KFC that day.
I didn’t believe it the moment I read it.
I refused to believe people would be so cruel and callous. Seriously, who would do that to a little child? Of course it would be outrageous and wrong - so outrageous and wrong I thought it was a ploy. I think we are far too easily manipulated by media. It was bad enough in the past when the “professionals” - journalists and reporters - were the only individuals spreading information. Now, armed with a little knowledge and a Facebook page - all sorts of things can be shared. And sometimes it seems to me we are too quick to jump on the bandwagon if the purpose is to vilify a person or a group of people. What ever happened to giving our fellow human beings the benefit of the doubt?
I have encountered a lot of people who have very firm beliefs about poverty - and they perpetuate them when they talk to me. Some insist there are no people living in poverty in the local area. I have been told repeatedly I should take my truck to Flint or Detroit. I had a conversation with a gentleman recently who was actually a person who was willing to admit his ignorance and was curious to find out more. He truly believed there was no poverty in the community. I pointed out that many people seem to think that - but it is important to open our eyes and look around us. Sometimes we need to step outside our own comfort zones to see the real world. It’s out there. I was one of those invisible people living it. Those who deny its existence are contributors to the reason it is hidden; people in this area are often shamed into silence about their struggles.
There are also some very annoying perceptions among people in which they lump every individual who lives in poverty into the same category. I get so sick of people who talk as if every single person who lives in poverty is living some sort of great life off the hard work and sweat of everyone else. Yes, they sometimes have cell phones, and yes, they sometimes have large TVs. Did you ever think about why? We live in a culture where people are indoctrinated to believe THINGS are the answer to life’s problems. We find some materialistic comfort in possessions - but, even for those who can afford the credit to buy them, they only offer temporary peace of mind. Why would somebody who lives below the poverty level believe any differently - or desire less of the materialistic diet this entire society is spoon fed?
This was such a great week for The Torch! All the hard work and planning and prepping and shopping and thinking and dreaming comes together in an amazing culmination of emotion when we get to serve our fellow human beings. The people who come to the food truck are such an incredible blessing to my life - and my absolute favorite events are when we can just relax and cook and chat with the crowd. I love it. I love to encourage people, and laugh with them. I love to hear their stories, and commiserate with them. I love to try to understand where they are coming from and where they are going. I love the connections. I love when people send messages on Facebook to tell us that us feeding their children is the nicest thing anyone who doesn’t know them has ever done for them. I love every part of those weekly events and blessed times.
There is another part of The Torch I enjoy somewhat less. Okay. A lot less, but I see value in doing it and so will continue. That is the part where we go out mostly to promote what we are doing, to bring awareness and try to encourage people to become sponsors and supporters so The Torch will continue to grow and be able to reach all the people we are supposed to reach - and so others will find hope, and maybe even be encouraged to take a risk, step out in faith, and try something new. Today we were in a parade, and we followed that up with cooking food in a parking lot. We had mixed emotions going into the event, because we never know for sure just how much food to prepare - sometimes we have huge turnouts and sometimes not so much. Today, we did not have a large number of people come.
The funny thing to me was somebody came up to me and said, “I’m sorry not too many people came.” She looked sad, too, and her comment and her face took me by surprise. I wasn’t the least bit sad or disappointed. Somebody else made a million suggestions for us for the future - trying to think of ways to get more people to come - and I thought that was kindof strange, too, considering I truly felt like it was a great event. Thousands of people saw the truck in the parade. Thousands of people are aware we are out there now. That was pretty exciting stuff to me. We got a huge donation at the end of the day, something that wouldn’t have happened had we skipped the parade or been in a different location. I met new people, and actually had time to stop and talk to them - one of the most difficult things to do sometimes when we are at an event and people are pulling me in all different directions. We got invited to speak for a group who want to learn more about us and see how they can get involved. We formed yet another small business partnership. And mostly, I prayed this morning that we would connect with whomever we were supposed to connect with today, and I believe we did! That makes the promotional events so much more enjoyable for me!