A Life of Serving Humanity

Today in the US we’re honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was best known for his work in the Civil Rights Movement and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, but what many people may not know was the key role that faith played in his life. He actually started his career of “serving humanity” as he called it, by attending seminary and becoming a pastor. While he wasn’t ‘just’ a pastor for long (although he did preach until his death), faith was a key part in how he led and the fact that he led non-violent movements to worked on advancing civil rights.

Each year we take a look at his life because there’s so much we can learn from it, and each time I read an article or hear a bit about him, I’m reminded of something I had forgotten or learn something I didn’t know. One of the things I was reminded of this year was how young he was when he died: he was only 39. When people die that young we often feel regret for the life that has been lost and what they could have done with the many years they were likely to have had they lived a life of more typical length. I have to say that I think Dr. King did very well with the few years that he had, packing more than most of us do in his last 14 years. He certainly didn’t pick an easy journey, even with the decision to be non-violent and work from a place of peace. But because of his bravery he made a lasting positive impact on countless lives, even beyond the civil rights discussion.

Additionally today I want to think on the many people who paved the way for his work, as well as supported him in his journey. The civil rights movement is something that had been building for years, and reached a boiling point with people such as Emmett Till and Rosa Parks, erupted right as King was becoming a pastor and was most active during his last 14 years. He was also supported by people such as Billy Graham, Mahalia Jackson, Jesse Jackson, and Thich Nhat Hanh, not to mention countless people who were never named but were present or supported in some way the many protests of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King didn’t do this alone. Yes, he was a charismatic man with big dreams, a captivating presence and the willingness to do what it took to get the attention that was necessary to finally create positive change. But he didn’t do it alone while he was alive, and because he died he couldn’t continue his work, others had to pick it up, and they did.

Maybe God has called you to be a voice, maybe God has called you to play a background role. There are no small roles, just people who aren’t content with the gifts God has given them. Today I encourage you to celebrate the opportunities God has given you to contribute to the Kingdom, however large or small, and be brave in honor of Dr. King’s life.

“The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!”” Matthew 3:3

Reality Reflection: People of a Decade

I’ve expressed in a couple of places how surprised I was a couple weeks ago that we’re not just entering a new year, but also a new decade in the coming week. I still have trouble processing that at times, and as I was looking for ideas the other day I was surprised to see that there weren’t that many decade-in-review articles and stories as I would have expected. Maybe others are also as unaware of the change as I was.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about especially recently is the people we’ve lost this year, and now have lost in this past decade as well. Each year some sites do post about the celebrities we’ve lost, but what about the amazing leaders and other notable figures that we’ve lost? As I was thinking about this I opened an email and was pleasantly surprised to see that the organization was going to donate profits from the purchase of an item to the foundation of a leader who died recently.

Over the past decade we’ve lost some incredible individuals who fought for something in one way or another, whether it was for their health, for the freedom of a country or nation, the success of a company, or just to share the lives, practices and happenings of other people and the world with the world. We’ve lost many people over the last decade, some of whom we would know if we heard their name, but wouldn’t necessarily be able to list off the top of our heads.

Yes, it’s important to live your life well, to make a difference while you’re alive, but what happens after you die? Of course your immediate family will remember you for several decades to come, but what happens after that? Everyone just becomes a ‘historical figure’ and we move on to people who are contemporaries with us? Maybe we won’t all be remembered by name, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing our best to make a positive difference in this world that we all share. Maybe you won’t choose to make a direct difference by creating your own foundation or being famous in one way or another, you’ll just donate to organizations that have missions you believe in.

I think it’s more important to focus on making a difference than it is to make sure that your name will be passed through the ages. If you’re able to use personal celebrity to further your message or make a difference in the world, you certainly can, but the bigger focus should be on the legacy you’re leaving, not that you won’t be forgotten. Many of the people that we’ve lost over the past decade have started organizations and foundations to support their work long after they died, and contributing to those organizations is a way for us to ensure that those men and women won’t be forgotten. But the bigger focus should be on the work they did and their organization is still doing, and less on how they specifically inspired us.

So this coming week go ahead and toast to the men and women who made an impact on your life this past decade, whether they’re still here or have passed on, but then focus on the new decade ahead and the people, including yourself, who have the potential to make a positive impact in this new decade.

Reality Reflection: Past, Present and Future

I was watching one of my favorite Christmas Carol renditions today and got to thinking abotu the different spirits that Scrooge meets. The first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, made an impact on Scrooge, bringing up both good and bad memories of the past, but seeing the past and facing it doesn’t always transform a person as much as it gives us lessons to learn from or a foundation to build on.

Meeting the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge learned what it was like to celebrate life, whether it’s a life of financial riches or a life of richness in family, and live in the moment. The meeting ends with Scrooge asking the ghost not to leave because he learned so much from this ghost. I think Charles Dickens could have finished the story at this point because Scrooge did learn a lesson and saw that there’s more to life than the way he was living. It’s a lesson many of us could learn, appreciating life and those in it instead of being so focused on what could go wrong or what our future might look like.

Yes, it’s important to have an eye to the future and make sure that the way you’re living today won’t have a seriously negative impact on the future of the world or on others, and that you’re prepared for some of the challenges life will likely send your way like old age or health challenges. After all, as Scrooge learned, the future can be pretty grim. The only way to change that is to live your life now with thought to past, present and future. It all comes back to how you’re living now.

This holiday season I would encourage you to take time to stop and enjoy. Enjoy the life you have, the people in it, the gifts you are given, and the memories you are making. Be thankful for getting this far in life and getting through your past as you have. Have a positive attitude about what the future will bring and the legacy that you will leave, but don’t let the future have too large of an influence on your life now that you can’t enjoy it or make a difference as the moment calls. What are you celebrating and appreciating today?

Tell Your Own Story

I was reading an article about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the heir to the British royal throne and his wife, and their tour through Pakistan this week. The article talked about how the whole world is watching their story unfold, that we’re watching their autobiography be written with each word he/they say(s), thing he/they do(es) and place he/they goes. Many people don’t have a story written until they’re much older because they aren’t famous or important throughout their whole lives, but in the case of the Duke especially, we’ve always known that his future is important and bears watching.

One of the things that caught my attention in the article was how they saw and placed importance on the story that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (and other royal family members) are creating through how they live. The Queen for example has done a great job of writing a story that portrays her as a strong leader who loves life and is extremely proud of her country and people. Just like them, we too have a say in the choices we make in our lives, but we aren’t usually as carefully conscious of how the way we live will impact the story we’re hoping to write.

Halloween is coming up in just about two weeks, and it’s a chance for many of us to tell a story about our dreams and someone we wish we could be or dream about being or have a fantasy about. For some of us it’s a chance for a little fun, but for others of us we’re serious about the person we’re dressing up to be, it’s who we wish we could be and part of a story we wish we were writing.

Life does hold responsibilities we each have to face, but more than ever people are proving that you don’t have to be something you hate or do what your parents wanted you to do just to meet those responsibilities. We each have the ability to choose how we conduct ourselves even when dealing with people and things we don’t really enjoy or are burdened by. Much of our story is told through what we say and how we conduct ourselves, especially when it’s difficult, and that’s definitely something we have control over especially when we don’t have control over other things like how other people act.

What story are you telling through your words and actions?  Is it time to write a new chapter in your story, or maybe even a whole new book?

Reality Reflection: Today was Fun

I’m a big reader, I always have been, with this month being Read Across America month, and also the month of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, I was taking a look at some of the things he wrote and said. One of the things I love about Dr. Seuss and his writings is his ability to move through complicated topics and topics that may not be much fun with ease. Even if some of the words are a bit of a challenge for reading they’re still fun, and usually have a great back story to inspire or educate.

One of the things I love about children’s books is how much they manage to pack into a short amount of pages. Our adult novels and books can also pack in a great lesson into a book, but it’s much longer and more complicated than theirs ever are. Yes, some things take longer to resolve than others and are more complicated, but the fact that children’s books can resolve issues in a dozen or two dozen pages also mean that sometimes it shouldn’t take as long for us to resolve things, and we don’t have to let them get as complicated as we do.

Not only do the shorter children’s books resolve things and teach lessons quicker, they also remind us not only how much can be packed into one day, but also the appreciation of each day and how quickly a day ends. Today, and each and every day, is a gift. What we do with each day is up to us, and yes, sometimes all we can do is work through a day as quickly as possible. You can’t escape or always avoid things going wrong, but it’s both encouraging and challenging that a day can go by so quickly.

My encouragement to you today would be to take a page from Dr. Seuss and work on living each day to the fullest, having fun everyday, being a conquerer of life’s lessons with a good attitude and with consideration of others.

“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” Dr. Seuss

Legacies and Stories

So what’s your story?  We each have a story, it involves the places we’ve been, the people we’ve met, the people who have impacted our lives even if we’ve never met, the things we’ve gone through, the choices we’ve made and the things that have happened in the world that have impacted us.  Each person’s story is different even if we’ve lived in the same place or experienced the same things, we’re all different and react differently to different things.

But the interesting thing about stories can be found in that which we most often think about when we talk about stories: books.  Sometimes the story we tell ourselves about an event or place is complete fiction.  Maybe that’s because we’ve only experienced a small portion of the full story, maybe that’s because we don’t have all the facts, or maybe it’s because we have an overactive imagination. It’s one reason that it’s important to check your facts, gut reactions and find out as much of the story as you can before you write your story.

Your story has a beginning, middle and end.  Most of us are in the middle right now, we hope we’re not too close to the end, we have more living we want to do.  So if you find that the story you’ve been writing in your life isn’t the one that you want to finish or isn’t going the way you want it to, know that you have the ability to change the direction of the story.  You can tell a new story, or make your story all you hope it will be.  Make that choice today.

“Humanity’s legacy of stories and storytelling is the most precious we have. All wisdom is in our stories and songs. A story is how we construct our experiences. At the very simplest, it can be: ‘He/she was born, lived, died.’ Probably that is the template of our stories – a beginning, middle, and end. This structure is in our minds.”  Doris Lessing

A Living Legacy

Today I’m thinking a bit about legacy, as Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on Monday, and MLK was a dad (he had 4 children). Having children in and of itself contributes to the future of the world, and is necessary if we want to have a next generation to live after we die. How those children are raised has an even bigger impact on the legacy we leave and help create. Even if we don’t choose to have children ourselves, even the smallest of interactions that we have with children can have a big impact on them and their future.

MLK made a legacy for himself through all of the activism he was part of as well as the children he raised. He’s inspired countless children ever since and will continue to do so because not only was he a leader, he was an inspiring leader and left a message that’s timeless and powerful in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Few people are as well remembered and empowering to future generations as MLK.

One of the reasons we have children is because we don’t want our legacy to end, and we don’t always feel that we can make the biggest impact on the world and hope our children will have a bigger impact than us (even if we do have a big impact). While I don’t think it’s a good idea to force our kids or the next generation into our idea of ‘a big impact’, I do think we should encourage them, like MLK, to dream and want to have an impact on the world.

There are big and small ways that we can help support the next generation in having an impact on the world, including doing our best to care for the gift of the world that we’ve been given.  If we leave less of a mess for them to clean up they’ll have more resources of all kinds to make improvements instead of working to undo our damage.  How will you support the next generation?