The other day we were on the radio talking about the amazing food/dry-goods drive the Howell Community Theater just kicked off for The Torch. The theme of the drive is “be a hunger hero”, and Sarah and I were introduced as, “local heroes”, which fit with the theme, but rattled me a little. You see, I know myself very well. And I know I am not a hero.
I am just - me.
Living up to hero status is daunting and intimidating to say the least. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to do such a thing. Google defines a hero as: "1. a person, typically a man (ahem), who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. 2. another term for submarine sandwich." I just might have more qualities akin to a submarine sandwich, than to that first definition.
Heroes are always so strong. But I am not always so strong. My sister is very ill right now, and that makes me feel sad and weak and helpless. The only thing I can do to help her is to pray. And I totally believe that is a very powerful weapon, however, it doesn’t keep me from breaking down and crying at moments when I least expect it. It doesn’t stop me from wishing there was something physically I could do to help her get better. It doesn’t make me not wake up at 3:00 in the morning with a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart. By myself, I am not strong. And that expectation is so hard to live up to. If people think I am some kind of hero, do I lose permission to cry? Do I forfeit the right to acknowledge there are some things in life for which I have no answers, and that leave me in a puddle on the floor? It feels like that could be the case, but I am not that strong.
Heroes are always so smart. They always know what to say, and they always know what to do. And I, quite frankly, don’t. Sometimes people share life stories or events with me that take my breath away and leave me speechless. I don’t always have the words to comfort, and I don’t always have the solutions they seek. Occasionally, we get messages for the Torch and I really have no idea what to do about them. We get asked to do things we cannot possibly do, things that are so far outside the realm of having a food truck and taking it to people to cook free hot meals, that I don’t even know how to reply. I can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, and I am not faster than a speeding bullet, and I don’t have all the answers all the time.
Heroes don’t get scared. But I do get scared. I get scared when I have to break bad news to someone, and I get scared when I am about to face a confrontation. I get scared of driving in the snow, and in the dark on unfamiliar roads. I get scared at the thought of losing the people I love. I don’t have a superhuman strength to overcome those scary times, although I do have prayer, and that gets me through them. I don’t face life fearlessly; it’s an everyday battle to overcome the things that frighten me through and through. I have to make a commitment every single day to praying and reading my Bible, and preparing myself to face whatever adversaries will come.
So you see, I am not a hero. I am just me. But that is actually one of the most beautiful aspects of being part of The Torch. Sarah and I are just a couple of ladies who took a little germ of an idea and with a whole lot of faith, ran with it. I’m not saying it has been easy, and I am not saying we haven’t had to overcome significant obstacles. We have. We have had conflicts, and frustrations, and scary moments galore. Our faith has been tried and stretched and challenged, and it has grown as we climbed over, pushed through, and dodged around the things that threatened to stop us. And we are still here, and The Torch is growing, and opportunities keep presenting, and we will continue moving forward - despite our fears and uncertainties and moments when we completely, totally, don’t know what to do.
I'm telling you - if we can do that, anybody can! I think too often we, as human beings, limit ourselves because we compare ourselves to those around us, and we are found wanting. If somebody is looking at me and thinking, “Wow! She’s a hero! I could never do that!”, then he or she can comfortably settle into his or her sheltered life and never step out in faith to do something to change the world. I don’t want my life to be the excuse people use not to help those around them. I want everyone to see - what I truly believe - if I can do it, so can you! So, what is it you can do? How can you make a difference in your home? Your life? Your community? Your world? I give you permission not to be a hero - you are free to be human and make mistakes and have fears and doubts. I won’t look for you to display supernatural powers.
So you see? I am not a hero. I am just a person who cares deeply about those around me, and who believes I have a responsibility to reach out and show them I care. And it's okay that I am not a hero. I can live with that.
Recently, I found myself sitting in a hospital room staring at a childhood picture taken in Cobden, Illinois a lifetime ago. As I gazed at the beloved faces of grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, parents, and siblings, my heart was stabbed with a pain that was poignant and an ache that was deep. In my mind’s eye, one by one five faces vanished from the picture. They were the faces of the loved ones I have lost through the years since that picture was snapped. I looked at myself as a child in that picture. I studied the face of that young girl who had yet to experience the many losses of the years to come. How little I knew. How precious that time was - and I didn’t even realize it.
It seems like it is just too easy to overlook the people in our lives. We make the assumption they will always be there, and sometimes take risks with our relationships that are, as we look back with hindsight, petty. When I was a young mother, my grandfather became angry with me over the church I was attending. I was equally angry with him for judging me in a way that felt very unfair. We grew distant from each other, and after a few years had passed, Grandpa got cancer and died. It happened very quickly, and I never had a chance to make amends with him. Over what? A silly argument about a church. Petty. I never thought about him dying and not being around any more, and suddenly he was gone. If I had the chance now, I would go back and fix that broken relationship. I can look back and see that Grandpa just wanted the best for me. He was truly afraid I had made a decision that would cost me my soul, and his anger stemmed from his love. But at the time, I had to be right, I had to have the last word, winning the argument and not being the first to apologize trumped the value of a life-long relationship. I was so foolish.
Ten years ago, I lost a sister the day before Thanksgiving. Ironically, I started to call her the weekend before, on Sunday, but then decided it could wait because I was going to talk to her on Thanksgiving Day. Three days later, she was gone, and I never had the chance to make that last phone call. I know I can’t beat myself up over it, but I don’t think I will ever stop wishing I had made that call on Sunday. After all, I could have talked to her on Sunday and then again on Thanksgiving Day. Or at least on Sunday, because I didn’t know how short her time was.
I have learned a few things from losing loved ones to death. First, I need to always remain aware that I never know when it is the last - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Birthday, vacation, or day I will spend with the people I love. I can’t walk around in morbid dread, but I must, must, MUST cherish every moment I get. I must hug a little longer, give an extra kiss, and say “I love you”, one more time. I need to live in the moment, not focusing on events that are coming next, or my texts with someone who isn’t even there, but I need all of me to be fully present and aware of those around me. I need to absorb the precious memories, and experience closely each one so I can treasure the time in my heart when we are not together anymore. I have to listen, not just with my ears, but with my whole being - to the cadence of a voice, the rhythm of a speech pattern, and with a desire to understand the meaning of the conversation.
I also must remember to be thankful every single day for the people in my life. Even those who have hurt me have made me stronger. I dig deep to find gratitude for them. But those who have loved me have made me who I am. I am thankful I know them. I am thankful for their thoughts, and ideas, and kindnesses. I am thankful for their presence on Earth, and in my life. I am thankful for love, because even though it can hurt like crazy; without it, life would be raw and lonely. I have to admit, I am pretty sure every time I have lost a loved one there were moments when the pain made me wish I had never loved in the first place, but the passage of time eases the heartache.
Just be sure to hug your loved ones tight. Hold onto them a little longer than necessary while you can. Love deeply, and without reservation. Forgive, and restore relationships. Someday the faces in those photographs will not all be there - but the memories of those precious moments you had together will remain.