When was the last time you had a really good, hard, deep, long, belly laugh? Seriously, is there anything better than humor? Laughter can lift your spirits so quickly, and make the darkest night seem brighter. Just recently, Sarah and I made a video for The Torch. We were having some fun with a song that was stuck in our heads, and decided to throw that into the video, which we found hilariously funny. After a pretty difficult autumn, it was a relief to laugh so hard and boisterously. It had been a long time since I found much humor in anything.
I was thinking about that video today, and realized just how far I have come. There was a time in my life when I could not, would not laugh at myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have always enjoyed humor and love a good comedy, but laughing at myself was nearly impossible. I carefully articulated and planned everything I did, to try to avoid any embarrassing mistakes or unintended humorous slip-ups. I certainly would not sing a silly song for no reason other than I just felt like it. That was when my life was guided more by what other people thought of me than by my ability to allow myself to be a human being. I had an image in my head I wanted to uphold, and silliness would ruin my credibility. Or so I thought.
I really was keeping myself in a kind of bondage, and I am thankful to Sarah for helping me break out of it. She and I have been friends for about six years now. It’s kindof a funny odd-couple friendship, but it has worked out well. We both share a passion for helping others, and a certain fearlessness when it comes to leaping into the unknown. Since I have known her, she has been the kind of person who sings on a video if she wants to sing, or dances if she wants to dance, or speaks passionately if she feels passionate. Basically, she is who she is no matter what we are trying to do. She has commented to me, more than once, that she thinks people have only a partial image of me - that they see me as being serious and thinking all the time, when, in reality, I do have a well-developed sense of humor and enjoy having fun. She has wanted me to lighten up - and has helped me see that it really is okay to relax and be me. Hence, the Christmas video. But that Christmas video is about so much more to me - because it is another step of freedom, which brings me great joy.
And, it makes me laugh. Laughter is healthy and good for you! Did you know there is even a therapy called “laughter therapy”? In the 1970s, a man named Norman Cousins became the modern father of laughter therapy. What did he do? After receiving news he was suffering from a terminal illness for which there was no cure, he checked himself into a hotel and overdosed on - laughter. In his book, Anatomy of an Illness as Described by the Patient, he notes that after a time of deep belly laughs, his pain was eased enough so that he could sleep. Eventually, as he chronicles in his book, laughter healed him of the illness!
Once, as a girl, I read an old book of true-life funny stories my mom had. One particular chapter sticks out in my mind. It was about a wealthy, elderly man who was on his death bed. He called his family around, and, as they stood at his bedside, he made the announcement that he had decided not to leave his inheritance to any of them - instead, it would go to a charity. The way the expressions on their faces changed at his proclamation brought forth a burst of laughter from him - and it actually brought him back to good health.
Life is funny. It can be hard, but it is funny, as well, and we need to laugh. Over this past year, Sarah and I have faced some crazy, impossible problems and near-disasters as we learned how to work a food truck. Often, the situations we dealt with were frustrating enough to make us cry - and we quickly learned to find the humor in whatever happened. Sometimes, the best thing to do is laugh and start over. Laughing at those situations has provided a great relief of tension, and they have seemed so much less tragic when we looked for the humor in them.
Every day, take time to laugh! And don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
Here it is, Christmas Eve, and I sit marveling at everything that has happened in the past two years since The Torch’s incorporation. The other day, somebody asked me what happens when we take to food truck out. I know the question was based on curiosity about the logistics of it all, but it caused me to ponder far deeper. A year ago, if somebody had posed that question, I would have looked at her with panic and uncertainty in my face, and a small ball of fear in my tummy. We had a food truck, and I didn’t know what it might be like to take it out. I didn’t know how to light the stove, or hook up the gas. I was unsure where to put the water in to fill the tank. The freezer didn’t seem to work, and I didn’t know how to get that going - or what to do if it wouldn’t. We had reached the goal we were dreaming of achieving, and I did not know for sure how we would make it happen. It was kindof like bringing a baby home from the hospital, then staring at the child with the realization everything had gotten very real, and life was forever changed, and thinking: Oh my gosh. What have we done? What do we do now?
By the end of June, after much trial and error, and arguing and frustration with each other and the food truck, Sarah and I had the logistics down - and the real learning began. What happens when we take the food truck out? A lot. One of the strongest foundations upon which we have built The Torch is the idea that needs come in a variety of packages, and it is not our job to judge whether or not someone else’s need is legitimate. We have fed people whose food stamps ran out, and those who cannot stretch them far enough to cover seven dinners each week. We have fed people who had food, but no companionship - and they have come again and again to fulfill that need. We have fed people who just like the idea of coming to the food truck, and encouraging us to move forward. We have fed people who don’t qualify for other help, but are living on a very fine line financially, and appreciate our no-questions-asked policy. We have had people come to the food truck not for a meal, but to find a listening ear and gentle word.
We have learned, and are still learning, so much about ourselves and human nature. Sarah and I are softer and more compassionate. We are letting go of judgment as we champion the underdog, and grasp the reality of pain and heartache many people face. We have realized it is equally important to accept those who have much as those who have little. Sometimes the people we meet who have the most are the hardest for us to love. We have come to understand more fully that they have needs, as well, and our job is to love and accept them wherever they are at in life. And that is a really big and challenging job.
We have learned to absorb criticism. You know, even when people are trying to do something to help, to make a difference for others, critics abound. Our no-questions-asked policy comes under fire on a regular basis, yet we know it sets us apart from others, and it is the very reason many have joined us in this adventure. That’s probably the biggest criticism we withstand. We have been told repeatedly we will get taken-advantage of. And often, other nonprofit organizations, whose sources of funding dictate policy, are not interested in working with us. A year ago, their critique would have caused me to question our determination to welcome anyone to our food truck. Throughout this past year, I have grown to realize the beauty and importance of standing firmly for what I believe to be right for The Torch. We have not been taken advantage of, instead we have seen and heard that people are encouraged, and blessed by this endeavor. And that allows us to continue moving forward. It confirms for us we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing, exactly the way we are supposed to be doing it.
This year, I am not facing the future with uncertainty and fear. I look ahead at the plans we are pursuing, and I realize there is a lot we don’t know about expanding The Torch. I also realize there is much to learn, and opportunity to grow. We will make mistakes, and have setbacks. We will get upset with the truck and each other. We will feel the pains of growing and changing, and, sometimes, we will stop and look at ourselves and realize how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. We will hold our heads high, fight off our uncertainties, and overcome whatever obstacles we face. And we will continue moving forward, meeting new people, and building new dreams. And, hopefully, The Torch will ignite enough sparks to catch fire and blaze brightly as we strive to change the world for whomever comes our way.
That’s what happens when we take the food truck out.
I look around at Christmas displays and see the words: “Hope”, “Joy”, and “Peace”, and I wonder - where does your hope come from? Hope is one of the foundational elements of The Torch. Hope is the reason Sarah was able to drag herself through the living Hell of homelessness and abandonment, and come out on the other side ready to help others. Hope is the reason I kept moving forward when I had no place to call home - choking back fear and loneliness, and withstanding judgment and hatred from others which was based on false rumors and lies designed to break me. Sarah and I never gave up the hope that life could get better, and that we could show other people that life CAN get better, and that there is always...
When I talk to people about hope, and observe our society and this world – it isn’t hard to see where people place their hope. Often, hope is pinned firmly to a dream job. We search for, and strive to get to the place where we can finally land that one job which will provide so much for us. We see the job as the key to wealth, prestige, self-esteem, and a better lifestyle. And, undoubtedly, the right job can often provide many of those things. But pinning our hopes on a job can leave us empty in several ways. Companies can be downsized, and jobs can be lost. When that happens, hope can be lost, as well. On the flip side - sometimes the job is everything we hoped it would be - and it brings all those good advantages, which do make life somewhat easier. But, once that is achieved, what is there left to hope for? Another job? A better job? I have known many people who found the job was not enough to sustain a hopeful heart.
Sometimes people pin their hope on other people. They think as long as they are in a relationship with this or that person, they will always be cared for. They trust they will never be let down, or left alone, and that that other person will always protect and love them without fail. Pinning hope on people would work if people were not people. I don’t care how awesome you feel the person you have pinned your hope to is - inevitably, human beings cannot reside on a pedestal, and they will come crashing down at some point, unable to be a sustaining source of hope.
Working in the schools, as I have for many years, I have noticed sometimes parents pin their hopes on their children. Kids are pushed to be the best athletes, the best scholars, the best musicians. They are encouraged to be the coolest or most popular students. Many times, the most driven young people are striving to achieve their parents’ unrealized dreams, and often this goes unnoticed or even unintended. But what happens to hope when children simply cannot fulfill their parent's aspirations? I had a conversation with a very upset dad many years ago. His son had several pretty significant disabilities, which were not diagnosed until he was in elementary school. The heartbroken dad was mourning the fact that his boy would never be the hockey player he always wanted to raise. His hope was crushed, and he struggled to find a way out of depression.
And what about when children’s dreams and plans for life don’t match up with parental hopes? I was guilty of that with my youngest daughter, beautiful Maddy. When she was starting her Senior year in high school, she approached me with the idea that she had a different plan for her last year than the one I had in mind - which was the one all her siblings had followed. We argued about it for several days. Then, one morning, I woke up thinking about her, and I had to face the fact that I wasn’t considering Maddy at all in the argument. It was MY hope that I was concerned about; I needed to unpin my hope for her future to allow her to follow her hope and set HER course.
Sometimes people pin hope on Christmas and the holidays. They dream about giving or getting the perfect Christmas gift. They plan the most delicious meal and think about singing Christmas carols as Grandma accompanies on the piano. There is a joyful spirit in the air as they contemplate family and friends with the tenderness that shows up with the season. They believe the Hallmark Christmas is surely within reach. But then, Christmas is over, the shine of the gifts dulls, work and normal daily life resume - and the bills start rolling in. All the sparkling promise that accompanied December 1st tends to flee with the advent of the new year. And where does that leave people? They end up searching for another location on which to pin their hope.
Many, many, years ago, I became disillusioned with people, and jobs, and money and education. I hit rock-bottom and felt utterly hopeless. No matter what direction I tried to steer my thoughts, I could not get the fire of hope to rekindle. It wasn’t until I chose to pin my hope on God, and the promises He makes in the Bible, that I discovered a solid foundation for hope. God's Bible is amazing.
There is a book called “The Green Machine”. It’s a kids' book I used to read to my two oldest children. We checked it out from the library nearly every single week. It is written with a catchy rhyming pattern and we thought it was so much fun to read. It was published in 1969, and, a few years ago, I decided to find it and buy it. Guess what? It is really rare to find and quite expensive to buy.
Compare that to the Bible. Over two thousand years old. Always a best seller. And it is God’s letter to us. Available even in Walmart. The Bible is not going anywhere. I pinned my hope to passages like:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
And when I come to those times in my life when people, and jobs, and education, and money, and everything else in this world lets me down - my hope sustains. Because what I hope for and believe in and live for is not pinned to anything in this world that can change in a moment. My hope this Christmas, and all the time, is directly pinned to God - and He has never, ever, let me down.