I have been reading all the thankful posts this month on Facebook. It got me thinking about all the great things in my life and how thankful I am to be so blessed. Well then, that got me thinking about the difficult, tragic and ungreat things which have happened in my life. Those are the events which most often emerge as memories when I am trying to fall asleep and cause me to feel regretful or sad. I hate those times. Coming to terms with the painful parts of life is a long and difficult process and it can be a struggle to be grateful for those events. It's only when I start to get past the pain and sorrow I can admit the worst times of my life were the times I grew the most as a person and a human being. I never would have learned the lessons I learned about myself and about life if I had never struggled.
Lately I have been feeling unusually down. I was trying to put my finger on the source of my depression. I have a new job I really enjoy and that pays the bills. I am teaching English at a university part time - definitely the most rewarding part time job I have ever had. I love it! My kids are doing well and are all happy. I am looking forward to hanging out with my girls Thanksgiving weekend. I really feel blessed by the church I am attending. I have more friends now than ever before in my life. Life is good, so why have I had this nagging sense of sorrow? When I finished beating myself up for experiencing an emotion I had no right to experience (yes, that’s sarcasm) I finally landed on the source of my depression. Of course! It is November and November is the anniversary of my sister Debbie’s death. There is no denying it - that ranked as the worst experience of my life.
Until Debbie died I sailed through life blissfully unaware of true pain. I remember a conversation with one of my friend’s whose world was rocked by a very painful experience at a point in time long before Debbie died. She was trying to describe for me what she was going through and she said she had so much pain in her heart there was no room for one drop more. She mentioned how people would try to talk to her about their lives and the things that were hurting them and she would just look at them and feel no empathy at all because she was saturated with her own hurt. I didn't understand what she meant then, but the morning I got the call about my sister, I fell to the floor crying and discovered an ache which was so overwhelming I didn't think I would ever be able to move again. For three years I lived in a fog and it didn't matter what other people were going through; I couldn't find it in myself to care. What I discovered when I came out of the fog, though, and began to feel again, was a new Rhonda.
That horrid experience opened my eyes to suffering around me unlike any video or moving testimony from somebody else ever could have. I realized hard and painful truths about myself and how judgmental I was when other people were hurting. I realized the importance of stopping my busy life completely to try to be there for other human beings. I began to look at people who suffered with a mind and heart ready to serve them. For the first time in my life, I was moved to the point of action by other people’s pain. My relationship with God changed, too.
Taco Bell Dreamin'
If you have never attempted to do something bigger than yourself; you have never lived. If you’ve not had the chance or the courage or the will to pursue a dream, you have developed the ability to exist, but have not experienced life. If you are waiting for everything in your world to be in perfect order, for the perfect moment in time when the obstacles are overcome so you can then pursue your dream - you wait in vain. It is rare for a dream to happen in the absence of overcoming obstacles and staring down defeat. Instead, I read stories about people who persist in moving forward and finding ways over and under and around and through the dream-killers blocking the way.
Have you thought about your dream lately? Have you taken time to write out what you can imagine it might look like? Have you listed what needs to happen in order for you to achieve it? Have you enlisted God’s help by praying and asking Him to show you what you can do with your life? Give it a shot. You might be surprised at what comes to mind. When we originally decided to make The Torch a reality, we started looking for a building in which we could build a licensed kitchen to use to serve children and teens. We prayed and searched for just the right location. After pursuing that, finding nothing suitable, and trying to figure out what to do for NEARLY A YEAR - the idea of a food truck came to Sarah.
Sarah was exactly the right person to be inspired with that idea, because she is open and willing to take nontraditional approaches to achieving her goals. When the idea of using a food truck came to her, she owned it and pursued it. Were there obstacles? Oh yes. We didn't know anything about founding a nonprofit organization OR operating a food truck. We didn't even know the initial steps we had to take to start a nonprofit. We didn't know the process or the paperwork or what government entities we had to involve. We didn't own a food truck, didn't know anyone who did and had no idea how to go about getting one, not to mention the fact we were clueless how to utilize one. The afternoon Sarah shared the food truck idea with me, we were eating tacos at Taco Bell. We grabbed a napkin and a pen and began to compose a list of ideas for The Torch as a food truck project.
For The Torch, as it looks today, that list of ideas for utilizing a food truck would appear to be the first step in the pursuit of this mission. In reality, the first steps occurred long before we dreamed on the napkin. The dream started to become reality when we made the decision to pursue the idea of helping children and teens with a food ministry and started looking at possible locations. We kept moving forward, despite the obstacles we faced as one building after another proved not to be right for us. There were times when The Torch looked impossible and we thought about giving up. But we were beginning to understand what it means to really live, because dreaming about the potential we could have for helping people invigorated and excited us and kept us moving forward. In reality, even though often it seemed like nothing was really happening, a great deal of something was actually happening. Every time we overcame a potential defeat working with The Torch, we were energized and came more to life.
Do you know how important you are on this earth? You matter. A lot. There was a very specific moment in time when the God of the universe called you into existence. Whoever you are. Whatever you have done with the life you were given. You matter. Life can beat you up and wear you down to the point where you forget you really matter. You have many precious and wonderful characteristics which uniquely belong to you. Have you stopped lately to think about that?
I would guess mostly nobody does that. For one thing, it is easy to spend time comparing ourselves to everyone else. We take comfort from knowing he/she is wider, heavier, slower, poorer, older, or less-able than us. On the flip side we see those who are narrower, lighter, quicker, richer, younger and more-able than we are. And our ego is checked. But comparing ourselves to others is exhausting. And trying to become less or more like them can cause us to take the focus off what really matters about us.
In a classroom one time we were having a discussion about what the students' favorite thing to do with their spare time was. Often a person's favorite things to do in her spare time are things which reflect her individuality even if she doesn't identify them that way. After a lively discussion with the first five students, it was time to hear from the sixth. That individual said, “I don’t do anything in my spare time. I am a boring person. I’m just boring, that’s all.” And no matter how much we tried to dig a little deeper, the seventeen-year-old continued to shrug and hold onto the belief he/she had no interests, there was nothing special about him/her and he/she was just a boring person. Maybe that person didn't want to speak up after hearing what everyone else had going on. Or maybe that person really believed they were not unique at all.
It frustrated me so much, because I know every individual is special, but we risk losing our sense of that when we compare ourselves to everyone around us - and I was trying so hard to convey that to the class. Who defines a boring person? Who defines you? Who defines me? There shouldn't be anyone else in my life allowed to do that because my niche in this world is not yours and yours is not mine. If I spend too much time examining the lives of people I meet and know and comparing mine to theirs I risk becoming lost in the hopeless knowledge I will never be what they are or have what they have. Or I will start pursuing an image that was never mine to pursue in the first place and will lose a lot of time figuring out my unique purpose and contributions to this world.
I think another reason we don’t take time to examine our lives and appreciate our uniqueness is because we are so busy. We don’t spend much time alone and when we do we are exhausted from our schedules and just watch TV or read or do something mindless to occupy those moments. But I think developing our understanding of who we are and how our differences can contribute something new and fresh to life is critical to achieving the full and satisfying existence we are meant to have. And we should accept the fact what we bring to the table might not be something that will rock the entire world, but our unique contribution is essential to the weave in the tapestry of life.
I believe if we impact even just one person in an unusual way because we are unique we have tweaked eternity and mocked those who would make us feel we are not quite what we should be. You matter. You are important. You are unique. You can contribute. How? Make time to figure that out. You have something you are not sharing as you should. Don't let anyone or anything else define you. Share the unique gift you have. Let's see it!