Standing Strong to Make A Difference

As I’ve been thinking about our topic of the month (strength/courage/bravery) and one of my other favorite topics, victories, I had what may seem like an obvious epiphany, but here it is: it’s through using our individual strengths that we’re able to make a difference in the world. It’s not by bringing my weaknesses to the table that I can help others, that I can make the world better for the next generation, or I can have a happier life, it’s by standing on my strengths.

I can’t avoid or completely erase my weaknesses (although I can improve on them), but I can rely on other people’s strengths to help me with my weaknesses or to support me where my skills or resources aren’t as good as theirs. I don’t believe we have to be perfect people or good at every single thing. It’s OK to bring our own skills and strengths to a project but not be able to do the entire project on our own. There are tons of short cuts and supports that have been created in our modern age from “supermarket short cuts” that help us cut cooking time down, to tech templates that allow us to do some of the online design work but not have to do it all, to search engines that give us answers with a few taps or clicks with no trips to the library required (unless you want to!).

The question really is will you bring your strengths to the table for the good of everyone, or will you keep them just for yourself? While I don’t think we have to help everyone with everything, I do think we need to give back and make a difference in the world. Lawyers can donate a couple of hours a month to helping non-profits, doctors can donate a couple of hours to free clinics, teachers can donate a couple of hours to inner city students or those with learning disabilities, parents can donate a couple of hours to single parents in their neighborhood to watch their kids, and business owners can donate a couple of hours to helping veterans learn a trade or start a business. Not to mention that everyone can recycle, plant a tree, share information with the police or crimestoppers, help someone cross the street, pay for someone’s coffee, or say something nice to someone on social media.

You know what you’re good at, you know what you enjoy. How will you take your strengths and use them for good in the world?

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Praying for Unity

Thursday in the US is National Day of Prayer. It’s an opportunity to come together as a nation and pray for some of the many needs in the country, and especially for our leadership. This year the committee is going with a theme of praying for unity, and the verse they’ve chosen is Ephesians 4:3:

“Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

The great thing about prayer is that it doesn’t take sides, it doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, a man or a woman, a morning person or a night person, how you like your coffee or if you like coffee, if you have a green thumb, if you prefer dogs or cats, or if you’re good with numbers. Prayer is something everyone and anyone can do. It’s also something that doesn’t have to take a long time to do or be something you have to do with others, although it’s good to pray with others.

So in a way just participating in National Day of Prayer is a way to unify many people around the US. Last week there was also some big news relating to the topic of peace and unity, North and South Korea stated that they were going to put aside their differences and try to work together for a better future.

Unity and peace both begin with a step. They not usually things that happen in one day, they are built over many days and weeks with work, communication, time and effort. Trust has to be established and it has to be shown that everyone is going to keep up their end of the partnership before unity and peace become a regular and expected thing.

So today what step will you take for peace and unity? That step can be as simple as prayer, or as big a step as you want to take.

Earth Day Encouragement

Earth Day is less than a week away, and as I was reflecting on some of the earth/nature related Bible verses, the earth related events I know about coming up this weekend, about tax time, and still about Easter which is only a few weeks ago, I was reminded that it all eventually circles back to one thing: community.

Let me explain. Yes, the Bible tells of God doing things for just one or a few people, but Easter is really about everyone, not just one person or a few people. Everyone pays taxes, because it’s too big of a burden for just one person to take care of. The earth is something we all share and we’re all going to either keep it or lose it depending on how we live on it. As much as we’re all individuals and God sees us that way and has individual relationships with each of us, we’re all still part of a body of believers and called to meet together, care for each other and love each other.

Earth Day is one of those things that individually we’re responsible for doing our part to pay better attention to how we live on the earth as well as make sure we give back to the earth. But it’s only when we look at our collective effort that we can really see the difference over the years since 1970 when Earth Day officially began. It’s only when we recycle all year long, and not just on Earth Day, that we’ll make a difference. It’s only when we consistently choose the environmentally friendly choices that we begin to see a difference.

The same is true for our faith communities. You may not think you’re doing much only talking with one person about what faith means to you, but when many people are talking with others about their faith, not only does the Great commission not seem so overwhelming, but it actually looks like we’re making progress spreading the word.

So today I encourage you not to give up. Don’t be disheartedned if you don’t see your personal efforts having huge effects. Take the time to be part of your community and see what your community is doing to make a difference in the world, both your local community for Earth Day and your church community for the Great Commission. I’m not suggesting that when you see everyone else is doing the work that you let others do all the work and don’t give a personal effort, but rather be encouraged that the work you’re doing in connection with the work they’re doing is making a difference.

“Sometimes—by sheer determination–we can just kick the stone away from the door of the tomb and march out triumphantly into Resurrection Life. More often, we must wait: wait for circumstances to change, wait upon on God, wait on others for help. When Lazarus was called out of the tomb, Jesus said: “unbind him.” You –you friends and family of Lazarus—you unbind him. Sometimes we cannot unbind ourselves, but have to wait for others to help us into freedom.” Br. Mark Brown

Together We Are More

We’ve all got failures in our pasts, and we’ll all have more in our future.  None of us are perfect and none of us can be perfect given the way things are in the world at this time.  But what it will take for the world to become a place where our failures haunt us less and we’re less concerned about being perfect, will be for us to care more honestly and deeply for those around us.

When we’re more concerned about what goes on around us, we’ll be more conscious of our actions and the impact that our actions (and our words) have on the world around us.  We’ll be quicker to notice that we’ve hurt someone’s feelings, quicker to respond to situations that are going to pot, and quicker to forgive and accept forgiveness.

What difference would this make you ask?  Simply put, it changes the entire equation.  By being more conscious of what is going on around us we’ll realize quicker when things aren’t right.  But beyond that, when we’re more focused on caring for those around us we’ll actually make the necessary changes to rise above the situations that arise.

Right now many of us are semi-motivated people.  We get up and go when we can’t take it anymore, when it’s in our best interests or when most people have already hopped on the bandwagon.  We like to know that others are doing things we’re interested in, and we really like to know that we’re not alone in the world.

Which brings us back to our point: if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that other people around us were just as concerned and interested in us as we were in them we would be less insecure, less self-conscious and more ready to take action because we knew we wouldn’t be judged for our mistakes.  In fact, people would be more likely to come up and lend a helping hand when things go awry.  This will mean that instead of picking stupid fights we’ll be focusing on improving the lot of the world and helping each other out.

Together we are more than we could ever hope to be apart.  Remember that you’re not alone in this world, but that there are other people who truly care about you and want to support you.

“To be capable of steady friendship or lasting love, are the two greatest proofs, not only of goodness of heart, but of strength of mind.” William Hazlitt

Reality Reflection: Helplessness

I think one of the reasons I don’t watch the news very much is because when I really think about what’s going on I feel helpless to really do anything. I’m not a cop, I can’t chase down bad guys; I’m not a medical doctor, I can’t cure crazy diseases; I’m not a politician, I can’t change or help a vote; I’m not a conservationist, I can’t save a forest from logging destruction; I’m not a political scientist or foreign emissary, I can’t help avoid WW3. But it’s not just about the big things, it’s about feeling helpless when there’s an accident near me or someone’s struggling to walk to their car or someone’s lost a dog.

Yes, we’ve talked and will continue to talk about how important and invaluable the little actions that each of us do throughout our lives. Yes I can call in a tip about a bad guy I saw from the news, I can donate to medical research facilities, I can vote in every election, I can plant trees, I can drive safer myself, or I can help someone cross the road. I can do something in each of the situations mentioned, but when they’re presented on the news or on a video and there’s nothing I can do in that moment, how can I not feel some amount of helplessness?

I think feeling that helplessness is healthy and normal. It’s a good indication that you’re still feeling and emotionally connected with the world. It means that you’ve got concern for your fellow humans and everything else that makes up this great world of ours. Unfortunately, for most of us though it also means that we have to accept being uncomfortable and unhappy with some things in life. Most of us simply can’t fix everything, no matter how much we rant, rave and feel bad.

Sometimes it helps to find what’s ‘glass half full’ in the situation, and even doing that little something like I mentioned earlier can help you feel a little less helpless. Unfortunately, until we all find that magical spider or the DNA to make us a superhero, we can’t be everything to everyone everywhere in the world. We have to stick to being superheros in our own part of the world.

Reality Reflections: Hurricane Experiences

As you know this month one of the topics we’re talking about is the topic of help. I’m so thankful to see all of the help that’s happening around the southern US in response to and in preparation for the hurricanes that have happened and are happening. I’m thankful that so much was raised for Hurricane Harvey relief before Hurricane Irma struck because the people recovering from Harvey may feel like they’ve been overshadowed or may worry that they’re not going to get support they need because the resources are heading to respond to Irma now. And while we don’t know much of the result of Irma as I write this, we have seen some of the pictures that have come from where it’s been and those places don’t look good and already people in Florida have lost power.

I lived through Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and I couldn’t help thinking about my experiences and what the people of the southern US must be or have experienced. I remember that Sandy was downgraded by the time it really struck so it wasn’t nearly as bad as they were initially predicting, which is similar to the news so far, in part this time I think because of how long it rolled along Cuba.  Although, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have lots of damage and weren’t without power, because there was significant damage and power out for weeks in some places.  I remember feeling less secure the second night of Sandy, with the back end of the storm for some reason, so it’s not just about what happens as the storm gets to you and passes over, but the rest of the storm can be just as dangerous. And the third thing that sticks in my mind is that it is still something that people talk about and have issues over the damage and restoration that still goes on today, some 5-6 years later.

As I said I’m thankful that people are donating now, and how many people have come together even before the storms landed to help their neighbors and their communities, and I look forward to seeing how Texas, Florida, and the Southern US works together to rebuild. But the thing about help is that sometimes as important as the initial help is, there’s help that’s needed long after it seems like it should be. I think about an addict who gets the essential NARCAN and detox for a night at a hospital the one night they overdose, but then goes back to their life and their drugs the next night. Yes, that hospital stay was helpful to them, but they need more help than that. Yes, the Southern US needs help, prayers and resources now and over the next few weeks, but they’ll also need it for months and maybe even years to come, depending on how bad the storm turns out to be (and any others that happen this season). If you’re the type of person who makes a financial donation each month to an organization or various organizations or has been meaning to start, I would encourage you to start donating to a disaster relief charity like the Red Cross, Catholic Charities USACenter for Disaster Philanthropy, and of course local Texas and Florida SPCA’s, Humane Societies and food banks which can always benefit from donations whether there’s a disaster or not.

Texas and Florida have risen from Hurricanes before and I have confidence that they will do it again, but they will be able to do it better and quicker if we all pitch in to help, even if it starts with just our prayers and thoughts.

Asking for Help

This month our topic is one that can be challenging for some, the topic of help. I know it’s not always easy asking for help, and we don’t always like the answer or help we get when we ask for help. But that shouldn’t scare us away from asking for help. There are a few things to consider with regards to asking for help. First, you’re asking for the help, that means you’ve come to a point that you really can’t do it alone anymore and need another person or need advice. Second, just because you ask, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to take that advice. Third, asking for help should not be seen as a weakness or point of humiliation or something wrong.

But in many situations it’s simply too much for us to do alone, for example the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey and Irma. There’s no way that anyone truly plans to recover from a natural disaster like this, but they happen. There’s also no way to plan for the death of a partner or child, no matter how long you’ve known about their condition, you’ll still have to go through the grieving process. And, there’s no way one person can lift a king sized mattress or move an extra large bookcase, you need at least 2 people. Sometimes you’re just admitting that you’re human and it’s easier with more than one person, and there’s a reason we’re all here together.

If you’ve been here for a while you know that I’m a big believer in not being everything for everyone. I know it can be tempting to try, but there’s really no reason to be everything when there are people who can do things far better or more efficiently than you can or have more knowledge than you do. I love celebrating the expertise of others and giving them the opportunity to shine at what they do best.

So today I would challenge you to go ahead and ask for help. Maybe it will be something small like asking someone to hold the door open. Maybe it will be something bigger like asking someone to look over a proposal you’ve received. Maybe you’ll be extra brave and talk with your partner about one of the things that’s challenging you in your relationship or ask how you can better fulfill their needs in your relationship. Start small or go big, but make the choice to ask for help today.