I grew up in Southern California. My family lived in Glendora, a suburb of Los Angeles. Twenty-six years ago a job transfer moved us to Michigan. It was a crazy, scary culture-shock of a move. I didn't know a soul in Michigan, had never driven in snow, and had zero experience with school buses. We walked to school in Glendora. Twenty miles uphill both ways in the blazing hot sun. That was my childhood. Just kidding. It was six blocks, and pretty flat - and there were a lot of kids in my neighborhood, so my sisters and I had a pretty good crowd to walk with.
When I moved to Michigan, I left a huge piece of myself behind in California. I had so many friends, and my siblings were there as well. It wasn't long before I found myself desperately homesick. I would dream at night I was back at home in California, and when I woke up and saw I was still 2300 miles from everything familiar, I would lie in bed and cry.
One night, I was so lonely and homesick, I called my sister, Debbie. We were crying on the phone, and wishing we could get together. As we talked, it got very late, and I went outside to sit on the swing in the dark. I looked up at the sky. The moon and the Big Dipper were clearly visible in the cold Michigan sky. As I looked at them, I asked Debbie if it was dark yet in California. She said it was, and I told her to go outside and look at the sky - to see the moon and look for the Big Dipper. I waited, and asked if she could see them.
After a few minutes, she excitedly said she could. And together, we looked at the same moon and stars, and suddenly the world didn't seem so big - and our hearts didn't seem so far apart.
Fifteen years later, Debbie unexpectedly passed away. And there are days, like today, when I miss her terribly. I don't know what brings it on, but I do know it hurts. I never stop wishing she was here, and I treasure so many precious memories in my heart. Sometimes I cling to those memories, and they help me get through the moment. Or the hour. Or the day. Or the week. Or the month. But I do get through.
Tonight, I will be looking for the Big Dipper.
Coming in a few days is The Torch's Carnival 4 a Cause. I was just thinking how, once again, we are doing something in an unexpected way. Typically, when one hears the word "carnival", images of a variety of sights and sounds associated with carnivals are invoked, and the costs of attending are mentally calculated. Our event title even makes it sound like a fundraiser, so one would expect to pay to participate.
But, we are The Torch. And The Torch's twist is usually different from the norm. The Carnival 4 a Cause event is - FREE! That's right. It's 100% free to anyone who stops by.
Why would we do that? - you might ask. I have a multi-faceted answer.
First of all, Sarah and I have been financially broke in our lives. We both know how it feels to be down to our last dollar. Let me tell you, being down to your last dollar makes you feel worthless and value-less. it shouldn't, but in this society, people's worth is often measured according to their financial status. If you have lots of finances, you have lots of worth; if you have little finances your worth is quite diminished. You often have to hide your poorness, too, because it can be very painful if people find out.
At the Torch, we are very aware of and sensitive to all that. We also believe everyone has value and worth. Everyone also has needs - some are financial, some are spiritual, and some, emotional. The emotional needs tend to be tied closely up in whether or not people have a sense of community, or belonging. All those different needs matter to Sarah and I when we are planning events for The Torch.
As we took inventory of the many products we had to distribute, we decided to come up with a fun way to pass them out. A carnival seemed to be the perfect event. Then it began to grow, and people got more excited. And we saw the potential for bringing our community together in a fun way. And making sure it would be equally accessible and comfortable for all people who equally matter.
There are a ton o f other caring people in our community who came together as partners with us - and, next thing we know - Carnival 4 a Cause is upon us!
I love thinking about providing families an opportunity to come out and have fun together and be able to leave with things they need. The idea that The Torch can offer a special event to do just that blesses and humbles me.
But there is a bigger picture before me - beyond the Carnival 4 a Cause. And that, beloved freinds, is what this event demonstrates about our community. If we can come together like this as a community to make this event happen - how much bigger is our potential impact on this community, this county, this state, this country and this world in the future?
I have been hearing people cry that the end is near - and I have to say, I just don't see it. I see a future and hope, just like God promises in the Bible. I see love and faith and joy and generosity and compassion coming together at The Torch through people of all shapes, sizes, and forms - and I see the tremendous potential for that to change the world.
This is an exciting and joy-filled time to be alive!!!
Last week was a crazy week for social media. I noticed Saturday evening that I had some very upset friends, and that people were fighting and arguing and trying to convince each other that his/her individual position was the correct one to have. Friends were "unfriending" friends - and finding themselves struggling with inner turmoil.
They were so desperate to prove themselves right they spent hours searching online for the perfect blog or sermon or commentary or post or poster from Pinterest to support their beliefs and provide comfort for their hearts. All day Friday, and through the night, and into Saturday the battle raged on.
When I got home Saturday evening, and wearily sat down - I logged into my Facebook, and began to read peoples' posts. But, I just couldn't get myself worked up into any kind of a frenzy. Spending time trying one-up other people via social media just seems so trivial - I am simply too busy for it.
I was busy Friday - doing what I have been called to do - planning for the Torch, and contacting people for Torch 180. I was busy praying for the multitude of people I have been meeting. I was busy trying to make sure we have enough commodities and prizes for our Carnival 4 a Cause, so that the people who come will have a fun day, and will leave with items they need - and the sense that what is happening at the Torch is bigger than any of them - and is supernaturally beyond any of us.
And after all that, I was busy volunteering at Balloonfest to help earn a donation for the Torch, because I don't believe in asking others to do it if I am not willing to. While I volunteered, I prayed and planned. I wrote a grocery list for Saturday - because we had an opportunity to take the truck out and serve a free lunch to people.
Saturday, I was quite busy, too. The morning was filled with more prayer and much preparation. And then, we took the truck out and began to serve lunch. It was raining, which caused fewer people to come than we had hoped, but we were busy, talking to and caring about people.
Most of the time, I am too busy to immerse myself in social media, and the news. I am too busy examining my own heart, and weeding out my own sin and dealing with issues where I fall short, to engulf myself in pointing at anyone else. I am too busy asking God to show me how to make a difference in the world - and how to make the world different through The Torch. I am too busy praying, too busy seeking, too busy going, too busy doing, too busy trying to follow God's command to love and serve the world. My time is occupied. My days are full. My life is fulfilled. I am just too busy.
I have a prayer.
I have a prayer, and I am asking my God, my Savior, my Friend, my Protector, my Guide, the Keeper of my heart to answer my prayer.
I have a prayer that those who call themselves Christians all over this nation, and all over this world, will become desperate seekers of God.
I have a prayer that those who call themselves Christians will look into the Bible and see the wealth of spiritual guidance and HOPE that is to be found in the very Words of God.
I have a prayer that in their spiritual journey through His Word, they will see themselves, and they will be broken so that they can be fixed.
I have a prayer that those who call themselves Christians will spend so much time digging into God’s Word that they cannot help but realize the very deep and penetrating call that is on their lives to GO, and to DO - and that they will become so absorbed with their own calling to go and do that they will not have much time left to dig for the perfect social media post to make it look like they go and do.
I have a prayer that those who have expressed such deep concerns about homosexuality actually have friends who are gay, and for whom they care about. Not as projects. As human beings and friends.
I have a prayer when those who call themselves Christians read the Words from God, that they will fall to their knees and weep for every single time they have slandered and abused another human being with their owns words, sometimes, often, trying to excuse themselves by calling it “prayer requests”. That the faces of those whose characters they decimated will come before their eyes, and confession will fall from their lips.
I have a prayer that hearts will break for the poor - that those who call themselves Christians will realize they cannot/should never have/are not excused for - abdicating the care of the poor to the government or some other organization they can simply throw a few old canned goods at once a year. And that their stomachs will churn as they recall every time they disregarded offering help when it was needed - because as they read God’s Words, they discover He says He will cast away those who did not help people in need - every time they had a chance.
I have a prayer that as Christians dig into God’s Word, they will become so enthralled with the life He has to offer, they will no longer make excuses for their own behavior.
I have a prayer they will own up to the fact that divorce, obesity, gossip, lying, and covetousness are woven into the fabric of the Church just as they are a part of society, and that those who call themselves Christians are not elevated above the rest of the world - the playing field is leveled.
I have a prayer that those who call themselves Christians will meet a God who cared for a multitude of people who turned to Him, and from Him repeatedly - yet received every single individual who returned to Him with open arms.
I have a prayer they will take note of this God Who loves the world deeply and eternally, so much so that he died for them - before they even tried to change a single thing about themselves.
I have a prayer that those who call themselves Christians will stop and assess - how many lives are they, themselves, individually, truly affecting, blessing, encouraging?
Does anybody look at them and know they are Christians because of how much they love each other? And if they cannot remember the last time they did something for someone else simply because they know God expects it from them - I pray fear and conviction fills their hearts. Because He is a God of going and doing.
I have a prayer that Christians will discover the enormous God Who was big enough to create everything and every individual in the world - and is big enough to take care of it still, and that in that discovery they will begin to go and do - and be blessed with peace and hope and joy that seems to be lacking in so many Christian lives.
There are times in life when you just keep moving forward, even though it becomes more difficult each day to swallow around the ever-present lump in your throat. You move and you go. You confer with your beautiful bride-to-be-daughter, and run to Hobby Lobby five hundred and forty two times in three days. You cut, you sew, you plan. You use a hot glue gun and burn your fingers. You organize, you arrange, you talk, and you try so very hard not to think too much about the lump in your throat - and the piece of your heart that is fighting the knowledge that life is about to change, and once more you have to let go.
You realize you cannot fathom how you got here. How did all that time go so quickly by? You know you tried to give it your all as a mom, and now you hope and pray it was your best. Softball games, vacations, homework, laughter, running together, crying with her, fighting for her, hoping and dreaming with her and the overwhelming knowledge of how much you love that woman, ever that baby, populates your dreams, and every tired moment when you are alone. And you avoid those times alone. You avoid sleep, because as happy as you are with knowing she will be in good hands when she becomes a wife, and as much joy as you know will belong to her wedding day, there is still a part of you that wants to reclaim those days that have passed way too fast.
As time flies by during the busy preparations, you often find yourself stopping to look at that beautiful woman, and her charming husband-to-be. You love them so much, but you have to quickly turn away and swallow the lump again. There is work to be done, and you cannot allow yourself to succumb to the bitter part of this bittersweet journey called life. You focus on the rejoicing - her happiness, her beautiful and bright future, the knowledge you will soon gain yet another son.
And yet, behind it you still see that tiny little face. Those baby hands signing “no” before she could actually speak. You hear her little three-year-old voice telling you why the only food she ever wants to eat is popcorn - "It tastes the best!" You remember the softball game, when she was playing first base in ninth grade. You could hardly believe she was a teenager, old enough to play for a high school team. And suddenly a sand-hill crane swooped down over the field, and all the girls stopped to watch it fly low, then soar to the heavens. And soon after, the inning was over, and your awesome fourteen-year-old first base player came running through the fence and yelled in excitement, “Hey Mommy! Did you see the Pterodactyl?” And you hear the laughter of the parents in the stands, but echoing in your mind is, “Hey Mommy, Hey Mommy, Hey Mommy!”
How did the time escape so quickly?
You shake it off, before the tears can flow. There is so much work to be done, and you want the day to be just perfectly perfect for her and her groom.
Suddenly, you find yourself standing next to your very handsome son, who has flown in for the wedding, and you see the church, and her groom standing at the front. And you swallow the lump hard, and bring yourself fully present into the moment. Because you know, YOU KNOW, this evening is going to fly by - and you want to capture it all so you can hold it in your heart forever. And you do. You have a wonderful time. You pray. You sing. You hug them both. You pose for pictures. You take pictures. And before you know it - everyone is holding streamers, and the joyful couple whisks through the streamer tunnel, jumps into the car, and drives away.
And you take a deep breath, and begin to clean up. Always moving forward. Never thinking too much.
The next day you head home. And, for the first time in a week, you sit down. You contemplate. And finally, you allow the tears to flow. They are tears of sorrow for how quickly precious time has flown, and they are mingled with tears of joy, because you saw how completely happy your baby was on that very special day.
Sometimes it is difficult to capture with words the ways my life has changed spiritually through my involvement with The Torch. These past few days, as I have prayed for the people I have the privilege to serve from the food truck, I have been overwhelmed with the Presence of God - and the sense of His immeasurable love for everyone.
I have the privilege of manning the window for the food truck - which means I get to greet and take the order of every single individual who comes to dinner. There is nothing else I do in life that humbles and blesses me as much as doing that. And as I sat and prayed for the hundreds of faces which are captured in my mind - the snippet of a Bible verse became a mantra pulsing through my prayers: “... ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine…”.
And then, I began to weep. And tears stream now as I write, because, as a Christian, I know “The least of these” are people who matter greatly to God, and to me. I weep because I think about the question: Who are they? The knowledge tears at my heart. Because the least of these are the people our society throws away. They are the ones who don’t matter. They don’t produce. They don’t generate money. They are not the most beautiful, handsome, charming, successful, powerful, admired people. They aren’t necessarily going to be world-changers. They are easiest forgotten and ignored. After all, they might need our help and love and support for their entire lives. Heaven forbid. They might not be capable of changing worldviews or situations. Therefore, what could we possibly need them for? Why should we waste our precious resources?
The least of these. My heart aches as I think about the callous assumption that the importance of a human life rests on societies’ scale of judgment. As a human being, I should care. As a Christian, I am compelled to act.
God has used The Torch to change and challenge the spiritual part of me. I can no longer just say I care; I am moved to put action to my belief. I can no longer nonchalantly dismiss my fellow human beings, hiding behind Scripture to protect my own personal kingdom. I have to do something to try to change the reality of how people are viewed and discarded.
Loving others, is a heavy, heart-breaking burden, especially when they are people who appear different. But, as I grow closer to God, and seek to align my life with His Word - I realize that caring for the poor, and reaching out to help other people is not optional like I used to think it was. It isn’t something for me to leave for “someone else” to do, whoever that might be.
As we go about doing what we do at The Torch, Sarah and I often find ourselves accused of “enabling” people. All I can say to that is, I sure as Hell hope we are. I hope we are enabling people to realize how much other people matter. And I hope we are enabling the least of these to acknowledge their infinite value and worth outside of society’s disdain and judgment. I hope they are enabled to see that we sometimes spend hours preparing for a meal that takes an hour to serve because they are worth it. I hope that tired moms are enabled to have one night each week where they can sit in the grass and eat good food without having to cook, or scrape together their last few dollars to pay for gas to get there - or for the meal itself. I hope we enable them to see we view them as having equal standing with us before the very Kingdom of God. I hope we enable them to experience a taste of His love.
They may be the least of these according to society, but for us at The Torch, they are counted among the most valuable created beings on Earth, worthy of our tears, our heartaches, our prayers, and most certainly, our food.
What’s your weapon of choice?
There is so much power behind the story of David and Goliath. I have always been told it is a story of David’s bravery and faith that God would help overcome Goliath even though the odds were stacked against him. But lately, as I have found my faith growing and deepening, I think there is more to the story. I used to think the reason David chose a sling as his weapon because he was just a young ‘un, and liked to use a slingshot, and he had more faith than the warriors around him - so he trusted God would make it all work out right anyway. Hmmm. I think I was wrong about that. I think David knew the power of a sling. Sling bearers were an important part of the military. But there was an entire army right there trembling in fear. Seems like they should have known the power of a sling, so it is kindof amazing nobody else thought of it, but it also explains a lot about David. He was smart.
David knew what he could do with a sling, and he knew God was not going to let Goliath stand. He assessed the situation, and went out to fight in spite of the fact that the King and other warriors thought he was crazy. Goliath was huge, and he had a spear, so the normal protocol would be for a huge warrior with a spear to go out to fight. That was expected and the norm. But David didn’t see it that way - and he used what he had to make a difference! That’s the thing that sets David apart from everyone else who was there that day. His weapon of choice was the sling, and when he used it, he set into motion a series of circumstances that changed history for the Israelite people.
I feel like we have done something similar with The Torch. Not that I necessarily think we are changing history, but Sarah and I experienced the system, and deeply believed there had to be another way to help people. We used what we had. It wasn’t money or power or influence. Life isn't always about money and power and influence, which is good, because we didn't have any. What we had were Sarah's culinary gifts and business sense, my abilities to communicate and make connections, our compassion for people in need (which I personally think is everybody at one time or another), our faith in God, and our willingness to allow Him to move us to try something new.
Believe me, there were scoffers, and doubters, and critics. We were even told our Torch business plan was dumb, and that it would never work - and from a conventional business sense, it shouldn’t! But for all those Negative Nancies, there are just as many people who are able to step away from the conventional way of doing things, and are ready to approach problems from outside the box. And they have become our encouragers and supporters. And God has taken the gifts and talents we have, and is using them to reach out to people in a new way. We are trying to let our gifts be His hands and feet.
And many other people have gotten involved who are doing the same thing. Did you know we have crafts and games at the food truck now? NOT because of Sarah and me! Not at all. To put it bluntly, we both suck at crafts. Between the two of us, there isn't enough craft talent to fill a thimble, if you know what that is. But one day our friend, Melanie, asked if it would be okay for her to bring craft materials and make crafts with Torch people. What a blessing! There is no way we could have made that happen. But Melanie chose to use what she had - crafting and artistic abilities - and make a difference. And it’s working! Even now that we are outside! It’s working! So cool! We are at more than one location now, but our friend Kayln has stepped in and is making crafts happen at the place Melanie can’t attend. Their unique perspectives make it so much fun for the people joining us for dinner.
Then there is our friend, Jen. She is a hair stylist. She volunteered last summer to give children free back-to-school haircuts at our back-to-school event. Jen is a gifted hair stylist who is now using her gifts - and faith - in her mobile salon - Inner Light Traveling Salon. She has told me several times that what we have done at The Torch inspired her to do what she is doing. To that I say, "Yippeeeeee!" She gets it! And I can't forget another great example, my pastor, Scott Crownover. He is the same way. He is a professional actor who realized he could use his gifts and talents as an actor to start a church - for artists of all sorts! And now we have the greenroom! His faith, plus his gifts and talents are a blessing to so many people - and I personally have been inspired and pushed to grow closer to God because of Scott's step of faith. Who knew hair cuts and acting could be formidable weapons? But they are!
So, therein lies the key that David apparently understood intuitively. Let your gifts and talents set your direction, then let your mind be open to what God is doing in the world around you - and find the way you can step out in faith and do something to change the world. Do it differently than everyone else, because that has such an impact! David's choice of weapon was a sling, Sarah and I cook and organize and plan, Melanie's and Kayln's are crafts, Jen's is styling hair, and Scott's is acting and speaking.
What if we all lived such a lifestyle that random acts of kindness were the norm? What if so many random acts of kindness were being performed in our community, that each day became an adventure because we would never know what unexpected blessing was coming our way? One of the reasons I enjoy checking the Torch’s email account is because I never know what I am going to find in there. We have met amazing volunteers, had surprising donations, and been blessed to hear from so many people through that account. I always have a pleasant sense of anticipation when I get a chance to check the email. Sometimes, I just check it because the day is going rough, and I never know what happy surprise might await.
Unexpected surprises and blessings can bring a smile to my face, and turn the most difficult day around, even if they don’t solve all the problems I face. Random, unexpected acts of kindness make this life journey feel less lonely. They don’t even have to be costly or difficult. Have you ever caught somebody’s eye unexpectedly in a grocery store or some other public space, and had them give you a friendly smile? Unless they work there (or sometimes even if they do work there) - that can take me by surprise, and I always smile back. It has become my goal to be the first person who smiles. It’s not like it’s hard to smile, but I don’t always do it. And it costs me nothing - I have to practice to make it a habit.
I can’t tell you how many times, when we are out serving dinner, moms have told me they did not know the food truck was going to be in the area, and followed that comment by telling me how much they truly appreciated it because they didn’t have to cook that night. And I always say, “Good! That’s why we are here!” Unexpected guests to the truck are a blessing to me! Unexpected meals are a blessing to them! It’s a win-win situation.
I know that recently there has been a resurgence of the random acts of kindness movement. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that movement, except I wonder if it sets limitations on kindness. In some ways it is sad that we get so excited when we do one kind thing for a stranger every so often when we are prompted to. But, what if that were not the novelty, but the norm? I think the random acts of kindness movement does not go far enough in its challenge to humanity. If we really want to change the world, our everyday lives should be populated with random acts of kindness to those around us - over and over again, regardless of whether or not those acts are Facebook-worthy.
It would be awesome to live in a society where, instead of dreading the moment we have to face the world, we are filled with pleasant anticipation and excitement because we don’t know what unexpectedly lovely thing is going to happen that day. And wouldn’t it be equally as exciting to prepare for the day wondering how I will be able to surprise someone else, and even how many surprises I can make happen? What would this world be like if random acts of kindness were the norm, and the desire to surprise others with our random acts of kindness consumed our thoughts and kept us alert and watchful for opportunities? Just thinking about a world like that makes me smile in anticipation! I think I’m going to start a movement called, “Lifestyle Acts of Kindness”.
It was one year and nine days ago that we held our very first fundraiser for The Torch - at a tattoo shop called The Shop. I remember how unreal it felt to be at the place where we were finally going to fire up the truck and prepare to cook and serve. No longer does everything we do seem surreal - at least not until I stop and sit for awhile, so I can ponder it all. Today we are going to be having our very first 5K. When we were dreaming about The Torch, and brainstorming ways to help fund it, one of the ideas I had was to hold a 5K - at night - but I tabled the idea pretty quickly because I had no clue how to pull something like that off, as much as it intrigued me and seemed so fitting for The Torch.
To me, the image of a light in the midst of darkness is so powerful. Where do we go when we feel lost in the darkness somewhere? We move toward a light, because we are creatures of light. So now, as I sit here taking a break from the preparations for the race, it suddenly feels a bit surreal to know in a few short hours all the efforts of this wonderful partnership with the amazing teen leaders in the Interact club will come to fruition, and the Glow Run will happen! A year ago, I never would have imagined we would be doing this today. Of course, a year ago, I had no idea all the things that could happen in 365 days. I wasn’t even fully sure how to operate a food truck.
It is so hard to describe the first year of The Torch. Sarah and I have grown spiritually and emotionally throughout this journey. We have learned a lot about each other, nonprofits, volunteering, cooking in a truck, and people. One of the most difficult lessons to learn was that of realizing no matter how much we plan things out, they will be what they will be - and that might not be what we planned. Sometimes they turned out worse than we hoped for. Most of the time they surpassed the best we ever thought they could be. We have learned it is better to let go of some of the planning because that leaves room for God to work, and He is far better at loving this world and creatively working in it than we will ever be.
One of the most unexpected outcomes we have seen from The Torch is the way the amazing people who are part of it in any way have become a community. Whether they have lots of money, or precious little, whether they are older or younger, no matter who they are, their presence blesses Sarah and me in infinite ways. Our society is so individualistic, and we have lost the sense of community. As a society, we are encouraged to be independently individual, and criticized if we try to lean too much on others. But in reality, we need each other. We need to be part of each other’s lives. And I have been blessed by the HUGE variety of people I have met in all walks of life through The Torch. People are so interesting and special. The fabric of my life is woven richer and brighter by the variety of new friends who are now part of me.
And I love it.
I have no idea what delightful surprises this evening will bring. I know all my decorations won’t work the way I hope they will. My fingernails will only glow for about ten minutes. We will probably have to turn the generator on even though we hope we don’t have to. Our signs will fall. The wind will grab the balloons. It won’t be dark enough. It will be too dark. We will be cold. We will be warm. I will leave a pack of glow sticks at home. There will be more than enough glow sticks for everyone. People will have really cool, glowy outfits on. I will make a lot more new friends. Things will go wrong. Things will go right. It will be one more Torch adventure that will feel surreal and glorious in the moment and beyond.
I can’t wait!
Often when I pray, I ask God to teach me something I didn’t already know. I ask Him to show me new insights into His character and nature, and to educate me in how to become more like Him. And often when I pray those things - God uses my own life as the lesson plan. Today I have been pondering and learning and realizing how significantly different I am than I was in the past. One of the most pivotal experiences of my life was divorce. The impact it had, and still has, on me has been profound and enlightening.
My divorce broke me.
I struggled mightily and deeply with the decision to end my marriage. I prayed and wept, and poured my heart out to God as I tried to figure out how to fix things that were not mine to fix. What I didn’t know, I realize now, is part of the reason I ended up in the desperate situation I ended up in was because I failed to understand the depth of God’s love. I was so concerned about what the Christians and other people in my life would think if I left my marriage I blocked God’s leading out of my life. But there finally came a point when I realized I could no longer bear the heavy burdens I carried. I was living my life mostly to try and keep my spouse from getting angry. Even though we projected a great marriage and awesome life, and even though we were strong leaders in the church, what happened at home was vastly different from what was seen in the public eye. I lost myself entirely as I struggled to continue a charade of happiness. I realize now, I had a sense of pride in myself and believed all my silent suffering and secret pain was done in a noble manner, because I believed my marriage was an encouragement to others to take their marriage vows seriously and keep the institution sacred. I also truly thought people would stop believing in God and following Him if I got a divorce. I was that arrogant.
I see now, how I was ignoring all the signs God gave me to show me He loved me no matter what. And He was not applauding my suffering. He heard my desperate cries and knew my deepest fears, and guided me along the rocky, painful path - through the valley and up the mountain of divorce. And along the way I was completely broken. I had to let God out of the narrow box of judgment I kept Him in and allow Him to surround and heal a completely broken, suffering soul.
I knew when I realized it was time to leave my marriage I was about to face the ugliness of Christianity. I lost a lot of friends during that long and dreadful journey. What I suspected and feared I might lose was my relationship with God. I didn’t see how He could still want to care about me when I was so clearly and publicly a failure. That’s when I learned about love. True love. Because in spite of everything that happened, God was there every single morning. He showed up every time I thought I was at the end of my rope and depression and despair threatened to overwhelm me.
Sometimes he used people. Often, the people who reached out to me were not people who would have fit into my previously very narrow view of those of whom God approves. They went to lots of different churches, and sometimes no church. And they blessed me. And through those blessings, I gained invaluable insight into Who God is, and how He loves.
I think we overlook that. A lot. I hear people talk about the Church becoming marginalized in our society. Individual churches try a lot of different tricks and gimmicks designed to bring people into the flock. If you live under a rock, you might not have noticed that churches have become quite contemporary - by doing things like changing their music styles so they can bring more of our society’s popular genres into worship, and adding an array of multimedia effects to church services, which can often rival the most talented artists and creative developers for entertainment in the world. And yet still I hear people say that the Church is dying. I think it is arrogant to believe God can only keep faith in Him alive because of our ability to add contemporary appeal to church services. Really? Did He create the universe or not?
I also think we, Christian believers, do not leverage the greatest tool we have. Love. Didn’t Jesus Himself say that to love one another is the greatest commandment? One time I posted a status on my Facebook wall about trying to love enemies, and how I believed we really needed to put judgment aside for awhile. I was quickly chastised by someone who basically told me people won’t try to build a relationship with God unless they know they sin. I disagree. I think people do know they sin. Most people I know are pretty good at recounting all the things about them that are wrong, and that they have done wrong. And most people are proficient at discussing how often they lay awake at night regretting decisions they made and the consequences they suffered.
What most people don’t know is that they are worth loving. No matter how broken, or dirty, or nasty they seem to anyone else.
I might strangle the next person who tells me the reason he or she doesn’t help others is because they don’t want to enable them. And asks me if I have thought about the fact I, through The Torch, might be enabling people. Really? Enabling them to what? To continue to live in poverty? Enabling them to continue to NOT experience unconditional love? Enabling them to sense that even though they don’t show it, they are broken and feel worthless when they continue to make poor choices and fail over and over again - and to feel there really is no place for them? Enabling them to stop believing their worth on Earth is less than ours? I don’t care how good and noble you are, or what political party you belong to, or where you go to church, or how cleanly you live your life, it doesn’t make you matter more than anyone else. Because EVERY life counts. EVERY life matters.
I am not going to say I get this lesson perfectly. I don’t. I struggle to love some people. But what I have seen since we started The Torch, is that no matter who the person is, when we simply reach out with genuine interest and love - and throw our personal judgment and biases out the window - people respond. Love is perhaps our greatest commodity, but, unfortunately, we miss it.
So many people act awkward when they encounter individuals with obvious disabilities. Because my job largely involves putting young people with disabilities out into the community to work and try to help teach them how to hold down a job, and sometimes, to fit in to society, I am hyper-aware of this. I have also spent over twenty years immersed in the world of the disabled and have observed and thought about this situation a great deal. I remember a very specific incident that happened when my children were young which really opened my eyes to the problem.
When you have toddlers in the house, it seems like somebody is always sick. I had four children, so our trips to the doctor’s office were frequent. My two older children are several years older than the younger two, so, when I would take the younger girls in to see the doctor, the older children would wait in the waiting room while we were in the examination room. Then one day, I took a deaf child along with us. The child was the same age as my older kids, and, as usual, I picked up the baby and started toward the examination room, only this time the nurse went into the waiting room and made the three older children join me in the examination room. She was clearly uncomfortable around the deaf youngster, even though he had excellent communication skills. It was interesting to watch. That was the only time the two older kids ever had to accompany me into the examination room.
I have thought long and hard about this situation, and have a wishlist of what I would change if I could:
First, we would stop categorizing people as anything other than people. I mean, when you encounter someone with a disability, stop yourself from thinking of that individual in terms of a person with a disability and think about him or her as a person. Period.
Second, treat everyone the same. Make it a habit to talk to everyone the same. Address the individual, not the people who are with him/her. Look at them. Look at their faces, their eyes. They are people. They have hopes and dreams, heartaches and joys just like you and I. Don’t stare, but don’t awkwardly look away. I think the more this is practiced, the more natural it becomes and you train yourself to start seeing people and not disabilities.
Third, don’t baby talk or talk down to them. Don’t turn them into pets or patronize them. When I am working with people trying to teach them how to hold down jobs it doesn’t help if everyone around them tiptoes around their disability. We empower people when we work to figure out why they make mistakes or struggle with certain aspects of a job and try to help them figure out how to overcome their barriers. If we just pick up the slack and do the work for them - we make them dependent, turn them into tokens, and strip them of their humanity. They shouldn’t get privileges or extra special care because they have disabilities, neither should they be discriminated against. We just need to be logical and practical and try to support independence as much as possible. Treat them like you would anyone else.
Fourth, don’t yell at deaf people. It’s only the deafness that comes with old age and too many rock concerts that can sortof be overcome when we yell. If someone is just plain old deaf, and relies to any extent on lipreading when you or I yell at them it distorts our faces and makes it even more difficult to read lips. Consider the fact the best lip readers only understand about 30% of what is said when it is spoken in a conversational tone - yelling brings that down considerably and draws a lot of unwanted attention, too. Writing is a better option. You have a cell phone - type a note! Technology has opened up the world of communication for deaf individuals.
Fifth, don’t let pity rule the day. Sometimes we pity children, teens, or even an adults who have disabilities - and we excuse their behavior because we feel sorry for them and the challenges they face. Don’t do that. Rudeness is unacceptable no matter who the person is. Don’t assume they cannot learn, or that they are even aware they are being rude. It’s okay to say if something hurts your feelings or if their behavior is unacceptable. Better to be told than to go through life making enemies. Natural consequences are great teachers.
Sixth, give them a chance. Don’t assume they can or can’t do anything - ask! I think often you will be surprised at how many abilities they actually have, and how hard they are willing to work to overcome obstacles.
Seventh - Again, remember they are PEOPLE first. People. First.
It takes a community of people working together to make a community. And what, exactly is a community? Over the past several years, there have been a multitude of individuals lamenting the loss of community in our society. There seems to be a common sentiment that we have replaced an essential component of our lives - being part of a community - with a world of technological communication, and computer-generated encounters. One time, maybe ten or so years ago, I heard a pastor speaking about community. He was trying to encourage the congregation to realize how much richness of society has been lost with the absence of community- and began to describe his childhood memories of growing up in a tight-knit community. He shared story after story of dysfunctional situations, such as family fights and affairs, and child abuse among the neighbors that the entire community was privy to because they were always in each other’s business. It was not a compelling pitch for community, in fact, I felt like it did the opposite of what he intended - it made community look undesirable and intrusive. I still don’t understand why he would choose that manner in which to preface his sermon, but I do know that I have thought a lot about community in the ensuing years.
What does it mean to be part of a community? Different people might have different ideas about that. There was a time when I thought I knew. I thought I belonged to a very strong and supportive community - until I made the very difficult decision to end my abusive marriage. Suddenly I discovered I had been valued more for what I could do for others than for just being the person I am. When I suddenly stepped out of their realm of expectations - unconditional love and friendship went out the window. So had I experienced community? Nope. I was part of a group - and the desire to be part of something is certainly what triggers our need for community, I think, but when you have to meet the expectations of the group or you are cast out, or when you are welcome to join, but nobody is really interested in you beyond how you stack up against them, it is a group - and not a community .
When Sarah and I founded the Torch, the concept of community was not ever a part of our conversation. We just wanted to serve food to whomever came to the truck, without question or restriction. We were willing to work hard to reserve our judgment on people, and we were determined to be an unending source of hope. It wasn’t long after we started serving hot meals, and forming friendships and seeing friendships form, that we realized, in addition to providing food and other material items to people, we were providing the intangible and valuable sense of community. When people are at the food truck they all have something in common - and it might not necessarily be financial need. What they share is they have just gotten a pretty darn good meal for free from a food truck, and that often leads them to start conversations and build relationships with the other people standing or sitting around sharing a meal.
The concept of how powerful community is has grown tremendously in my heart and mind over this past year. The thing is - logistically, we are all part of this community. We can avoid it, distract ourselves from it, ignore it, and critique it - BUT - none of that changes the fact we are part of it and we need it. We need to care about other people. We need other people to care about us. We need to share in life experiences, be they eating at a food truck or uniting to help solve a societal problem. And I believe many of societal problems can and will be solved as we work to develop this sense of community. Because what I have seen develop out of the Torch are relationships that transcend merely showing up at the food truck on the designated day at the designated time. I have seen people who are from very different stages and walks of life encouraging each other on Facebook, and getting together outside of the event the Torch is promoting. I see people supporting other people - whether they are rich or poor, strong or weak, popular or unpopular. I see a coming together that defines community.
And that community is going to lead the way in showing the collective group of human beings who live in this area how important and powerful it is to form community. Because we are all going to work together to bring in all, yes ALL the people we know to help with Torch 180 in one way or another. It is a big undertaking which will serve an under-served population of people who likely will never be able to repay all the individuals, small businesses, and organizations who unite to make this dream a reality. Why? Because that’s what community does. As we have been strengthening and supporting each other - we have built an incredibly diverse community of people and a pool of talent that has tremendous potential to change society. Together, we will build awareness of the reality that over 60 percent of individuals with disabilities from 16-64 are unemployed. And we will attack that reality, beginning with Torch 180. The only way it can happen is through the efforts of a community.
So let’s get to work, because everyone needs what we have. They need to be part of a community of people who are not exactly like them, and who are going to light a fire in this county. Spread the word! Talk to everyone you know! We need money, a building, a commercial kitchen, and support. Let us know how YOU can help, because what you have to offer is valuable and necessary!
Torch 180 is going to be a restaurant/cafe/catering food service that employs people with disabilities. It is also going to be the result of a powerful community of Torch supporters and friends - and everyone. Spread the word to all the people you know, because the more people get involved, the more we will all - working together - be able to accomplish. I truly LOVE being part of the Torch and connecting with all of you awesome and amazing human beings who make this world the wonderful place it is. I can't wait for the day when we all gather together and celebrate Torch 180 - and begin to see even more lives transformed and our community become more diverse and populated.
There is much to do! Let’s get to work!!!!
Oh, the things I have learned in this life I have lived.
When I was five years old, I entered Kindergarten, as is usual. I was a rather shy, insecure five-year-old when I started school. It didn’t take long, however, to discover I was actually pretty smart. I learned to read within the first month of school, and was reading Beverly Cleary’s chapter books - and loving them - by Christmas. I was in an underprivileged school district, which caused me to stand out even more. People began to study me. Grown-ups would come to the school and take pictures of me reading. And I hated that.
In first grade adults started pulling me out of class for testing. They tested my IQ, and everybody whispered. And I hated that. I was pulled repeatedly in first grade and second grade. They place me in a pilot program for the gifted and talented - and continued to test me. And, need I say it again, I HATED all the attention. My heart would sink when the school psychologist entered the room. I did not want to be singled out. I despised talking to strangers. I was scared because they would whisper and plan meetings with my mom. I was forced, against my, will to take reading and math with students who were a grade ahead of me. I was better than them, and they couldn't stand me.
Somebody decided I should skip third grade and go straight to fourth. That was a real treat. Every single one of those fourth graders thought I was a weirdo. Nobody would talk to me, but they talked about me all the time. I could not bring myself to speak in front of the class, and there were times when I agonized, because the teacher would refuse to move on until somebody answered the question correctly. I knew the answer, but would not volunteer, and the rest of the class either did not know, or also refused to answer. I am not sure which, I just knew my classmates would not appreciate my participation. I was shy and tormented.
Then, early in the school year, my family moved. My mom decided, wisely, that I should start my new school in third grade, with my peers. I thank God for that. Life got easier then. There was no more testing, and I was with children who were the same age as me. I developed a certain arrogance, though, and turned into a real brat. School was so easy for me, and other students looked up to me. Even though I still fought my bashful nature, I became a leader in the classroom. I think my teacher was working hard to keep my busy - because I would rush through the work so I could get to my book - and she made it very clear I was not going to spend all day in class reading. In my arrogance, I developed a dislike for people who did not do well in school. I had no tolerance for wrong answers, and no patience to wait for slow readers or those who didn’t understand the math. I would rudely start reading over them, or yell out the answers so we could move on.
There was a class at my elementary school for students with special needs. I called them the “R” word. One of the girls in that class was the same age I was, and her name was Penny. Even though I didn’t know her at all, I couldn’t stand her. One day, on the playground, she approached us to join the game we were playing. I didn’t want her to play, and it made me mad she even asked. I cringe now at the memory. What an arrogant bully I was. I told her that she could not play with us, and if she would try once in a while, she wouldn’t be in the “R” class at school. The hurt expression on her face is burned into my brain. If ever there were words to take back…if only there was a way.
So, I went through school, and was told repeatedly I should become an engineer or a doctor when I grew up. I figured I would follow one of those paths. But life took a different turn, and I became a very young mom without the resources to go to school. I wanted to be the best mother I could be, and school became secondary to that goal. Meanwhile, a large population of deaf people attended my church. One day, there was an announcement that a Sign Language class was being offered by one of the deaf individuals. There was a need for additional interpreters, and the deaf community was hoping some would come out of the class. I was intrigued, and I signed up.
Thus began my education into the life of people with disabilities. And I learned it truly is not a matter of trying or not trying - it is a complex world of barriers and heartache to navigate. When I moved to Michigan several years later, I got a job as an interpreter. It was a job I held for thirteen years, and when it ended, I was counseled to go back to school and do something “more important” with my life. But my heart was with those with special needs, and I continued in that field. And I love it, and I love them.
When Sarah and I founded the Torch, we knew we would be working our full time jobs while running the organization. There has never been any other plan - we don’t think we should get paid to help people in need, so donations to the Torch always go straight back into the Torch. And that mission and plan has been blessed abundantly. But meanwhile, we have wondered and pondered if there was the potential for us to run a business which would not only be our jobs, but which would allow us to give back to our community AND provide another source of funding for us to use to expand and grow the Torch. What a dream!
Then, when we were not expecting it, a possibility presented itself, and we spent several months exploring an option which, at first, seemed like a ready-made opportunity to operate a business run by individuals who had special needs. Our research showed that that opportunity was not really viable as a business, but it led us to a meeting in which we hit upon the idea of using the resources and knowledge we already had - running a commercial kitchen, cooking, ServSafe management training - and marrying them with my training and background in helping individuals with disabilities learn how to work in the food-service industry, and Sarah’s business education and training. The fact that she is a disabled Army Veteran who has struggled in her search for a job, is one more arrow pointing us in this direction. And so, Torch 180 was born.
I marvel this morning as I think about the mean little girl I was, and the heart and passions I have now. I hope someday I have the chance to apologize to Penny.
So, how comfortable is life these days? Sometimes my heart feels so heavy with the plight of Christians in the United States. I believe many Christians are living with a false reality. Prosperity theology began in the U.S. in the 1950s, and picked up speed throughout the years of heavy televangelism. And many people can recite a list of names of currently popular Prosperity Theology pastors. In case you don’t know, Prosperity Theology teaches that Christians are blessed directly in proportion to the financial donations they are willing to give - to the Church, of course. Many people buy into that idea.
Many others say they don’t, but in a myriad of subtle ways the theology of prosperity has infiltrated the American Christian mindset. And it fits so perfectly with our societal view of success. The biggest and best are the winners. The more good possessions, good times, good jobs, good outcomes you have, the more successful you are. We believe the people who have the most are doing the best. We apply that to churches, too. And I think it is causing a desperate plight for the American Christian. When our focus is on the external, we are driven to pursue the things that affect the external.
But when I read my Bible and dig deeper into trying to know the character of God, I realize He is a God of the internal. He is far more invested in what is happening inside of me, than in what I achieve on the outside. When we, American Christians, compare ourselves to people in other nations, we look pretty good and we thank God for His favor. But I have a feeling our gratitude is misguided. I really think we are missing the boat. I don’t see a single instance in the Bible where serving God was comfortable and profitable. The people who had the closest relationships with God suffered tremendously on the outside. After Paul met God he seems to have walked away from comfort and prestige. He was hunted and imprisoned, yet his teachings about peace, and happiness and joy are profound. His outward circumstances, which could easily be deemed a fail in our society - and I have a feeling even among many Christians today - did not dim the power and hope that was so deeply imbedded in his heart and life. His internal life was so invested in God, that what happened on the exterior became inconsequential. Our focus on the exterior, on numbers and profits, and comfort, and counting our “successes” has caused us to settle for lives which are inferior to the kind of lives God promises in the Bible.
When was the last time you took a chance? When was the last time, if ever, you got out of your comfort zone and tried to do something big for God? Have you ever done something that was so big, there was no way you could do it yourself? Or something that was so radical, and out of character that you were afraid? Most of our lives are lived according to our abilities, and our desire to provide comfortably for ourselves. The things we do and try and the circumstances we put ourselves into are pretty safe. With or without God, we’ve got it and we can do it. I think often, if we do try something new, we are constantly aware of the pressure to succeed and so we step into a venture we are already good at, or we only venture forward when things are lined up perfectly for a seamless change. We live very safe and comfortable lives - and as long as we, and our churches, keep God in the “outward success = God’s blessings” box, we are applauded and looked up to. As long as we faithfully put our offerings in the plate, show up for services, and volunteer when we are needed - we can rest in God’s favor. As long as we look successful on the outside, we can be confident we are living for God.
That is such misguided thinking. If you read the Bible, you discover a different God than that. You discover a God who wants to know you and Who wants you to know Him. A God Who loves you - truly loves you no matter what your circumstances, life choices, or mistakes have caused you to do. He loves you no matter what church you do or do not attend. He loves you no matter how many volunteer hours you have logged. He is a God Who is very interested in the world, but not for financial reasons. He isn’t counting up successes and measuring people, or churches, against each other. He is not looking for the biggest church or the wealthiest donor. He isn’t counting how many missionaries you support. He is not a God Whose sole focus is giving people comfortable lives on the outside while neglecting what is happening on the inside. He is a powerful God. He created the universe. Yet He is an intimate God, with infinite resources of hope and love. We cannot begin to understand such a God.
Let me say it again - He created the universe. It has to sink in. He took nothing and made something.
In light of that, wouldn't it make sense to understand He doesn’t need your money, your presence in the pew, or your volunteer hours? He doesn't need us to show how we stack up against other human beings. He created the universe, yet He has a very personal interest in YOU, for no other reason than you are a living soul. When you begin to connect with God personally, you start to realize how shallow and empty life is without Him. Your physical comfort and outward successes become secondary to your desire to know God more, and to let His love flow through you to others. You are overcome with a desire to be like Him, and that supersedes the influences of worldly comforts. When you really begin to know God - you put forth some effort and work into seeking out His nature, and when you actually have moments where you sense His Presence and have experienced His power you realize that, while the world is a beautiful creation - it is a pittance compared to the Creator.
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.
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.