Here in the Unites States on this day of reflection, I am reminded of opportunity. Whenever a nation, city, family or individual is confronted by sheer devastation, be it a massive terrorist attack, an overwhelming storm or an acute crisis, there’s shock, grief and then some still space and then action. That little bit of space can be and often is the hinge on which everything afterward swings. When reduced to our very lowest, completely vulnerable and no longer blanketed by safety and security what do we choose? So many of us choose compassion. So many of us choose to be patient with ourselves and our circumstances. So many of us choose to help and rescue and offer aid. It’s our nature and that’s what we do here. As individuals in nations and citizens of the world, if we can continue to root ourselves in solidarity and compassion we can rise from any ashes, overcome any struggle and build resilience no matter the circumstance. Here’s to hoping that when that small space of stillness opens up, we take note and choose to ground ourselves in goodness.
There are people dear to me who, right now, are enduring some extreme conditions. As the storms in South Texas bandy about water and wind and residents either flee or hunker down to ride out the storm we send thoughts of love and strength to nature’s victims. As poverty reigns with a heavy hand in northwestern Guatemala (and the world over) we mindfully seek resources and interventions that might lift it’s crushing weight. As citizens throughout our dear America drive wedges between each other and the founding principles designed to bring us greater integrity we necessarily seek connection, compassion and perspective. As we prayed last night, I realized the words we uttered had universal application to all of that suffering: Please let the people who currently have the willingness and capacity to help be connected with those who need it most. No one of us can fix all of it but the humble, steady and consistent efforts of many of us will make a difference. Here’s to doing what we can today to spread calm and relieve suffering.
Compassion is the universal language of humanity. No matter what words you speak, acts of kindness and empathy resonate soul-deep. The more we each speak this language of compassion in thought, word and action, the more we’ll understand each other. The more we understand each other the more we can imbue our lives with peace.
Take Action: Today find a way to speak the language of compassion by reaching out to another person (family member, friend or stranger) and asking “What can I do to support you today?” And then if you’re able, do that thing.
As I mentioned in my “Love Story” Facebook posts a few months back, Ritchie and I went on our first date Valentines Day 1997 which means that we’ve spent the last 20 years cultivating our relationship. As I look back and reflect on how those two sweet teenagers made their way from that first spark of giddy infatuation to more steady and enduring love, I am reminded of how small consistent decisions have far-reaching consequences. Here are a few decisions we make that I am so very grateful for…
-Greet with a hug and a kiss. I watched my parents do this and so it seemed natural to welcome Ritchie home at the end of the day with this small ritual. When it was just the two of us I would stop whatever I was doing when he got home and meet him at the door. Now I am usually outpaced by Jessica and Cassie but almost everyday we all express our gratitude for Daddy’s arrival home.
-Fight fair. Early when we were married I drove Ritchie nuts as I played both referee and combatant in our verbal tiffs. With my Family Science degree I was armed with communication recommendations (many of which I am still working at :)) and I would stop us in the middle of an argument to insist that we not use words like “always” or “never” or to patiently request a specific example when I felt I was unjustly accused of something. 20 years later that looks like clear and calm communication most of the time.
-Commit to creating something unique. The relationship we have is unlike any other we have had or ever will have and it is different from any other marriage we know about. As long as we both keep choosing to make it a priority it will grow and deepen. We each bring our own gifts and in this shared space of our relationship we seek ways to let those gifts flourish as we develop as individuals, as a couple and now as a family. As two different individuals seeking to grow, learn and make it through life we sometimes stumble and we each have a birds eye view of the others shortcomings. In those moments we have the opportunity to extend patience, understanding and love and to witness the distinct beauty that comes from intimate kindness.
-Smile at each other. As often as we can. In the unexpected moments, the ones those two teens never could have dreamed of, from the hours of anxious anticipation in IVF clinics to the breathtaking views from mountain jungles sometimes there aren’t words to convey the emotion or the gratitude we’re feeling. In those moments, with a simple smile I’m saying thank you for the gift of your loyal and incredible soul at my side along this path of life. I think Ritchie’s smile is saying the same thing that gangly and goofy 17 year old said “Wow.”
So it turns out when you accidentally start a business there are quite a few things you have to learn really quickly. Here are a few tidbits I picked up this week:
Important Acronyms to know:
FEIN (Federal Employer Identification Number)
LLC (Limited Liability Company)
JSN (Just say no…especially important when people ask you to do something you REALLY don’t know how to do-like remove a tree)
TAGQ (Pronounced tah-gque, “That’s a good question”….turns out there are quite a few of these coming my way)
Live & Learn
Don’t apply for your Federal EIN number before your LLC paperwork confirmation comes back. Because maybe the name you wanted is taken (it turns out checking domain names and the federal EIN site isn’t the same thing as checking in with the State Comptroller. Who doesn’t buy their domain name when they file their business paperwork!?) and then you have to file a bunch more paperwork to make your EIN Number match your LLC name.
Applying for insurance when your previous experience is a volunteer apprenticeship and the person you worked with is now deceased (but lives on in everything you put in the ground) presents an interesting series of hoops to jump through. Additionally, submitting a resume, payroll estimates and gross revenue estimates is challenging when you’ve been in business for 2.5 weeks. But having insurance to bring in jobs and earn that revenue seems like the responsible way to operate. So much for the advice in $100 Startup to just try something out and see if it works, write the business plan later.
Sometimes things work out and fall into place. Sometimes they don’t. Ritchie and I have been trying to figure out a way to create a revenue stream that we could use for humanitarian endeavors. We’ve sorted through and planned a few different things now but kept hitting roadblocks. Then this opportunity just kind of opened up and I feel hopeful and confident that Esteban, our newly-sponsored high school student training to be an Agricultural Technician will give this whole endeavor added meaning, motivation and success. It’s a blessing to use our freedom, gifts, experiences, time and opportunities to empower others. Until next time, happy landscaping!
Yesterday I had the chance to go ice skating with Jessica. Having only been a few times in her 7 years she’s still a bit unsteady on the ice. She enthusiastically donned her skates and I watched her stumble through the door to the rink and wait with anxious anticipation for the Zamboni to finish it’s job so she could begin skating. Her initial enthusiasm quickly channeled itself into focused determination as she gripped the wall and unsteadily made her way slowly around the rink. After a few minutes, I followed her out onto the ice, watching her strong little legs jerkily move along as she tried to master the feel of balancing her entire body on two very narrow blades and gliding on a very unforgiving surface. When she was ready to leave the wall she took my hand and held tight, scooting one leg and then the other shuffling herself around the rink again and again. After a while she began to let go at intervals. Feeling increasing confidence in her steadiness, she would move a few feet from me, sometimes falling, sometimes skating and inevitably looking back to see if I was watching. After a few laps of back and forth hand-holding, I began skating close to her holding my arm out. I opened my hand and flexed my arm muscles so that my arm was strong and available to her. I imagine watching me skate was pretty comical, partly stooped with one arm bent at the elbow. It didn’t matter though, I wanted to serve as firm support for her when she needed it. She grabbed on quite a bit but increasingly she could balance on her own. A few times she skated farther from me and someone would come between us. Other times she’d fall and look up at me with the tears that come from pain (knees+ice=hurt) and question why I wasn’t right next to her, why I’d left when she needed me. I told her it was because she had skated on her own, she’d quickened her pace. I thought about God, as I always do in my contemplative parenting moments, and how his support for us is the same. He tells us his arm is extended, and that for all our faltering moments, His hand is stretched out still. Just like I held my arm firm and steady, He offers his strength, support and solidarity as we learn new things, as we stumble, as we venture out and gain confidence in this thing called living. And when we stumble and fall and look up blaming Him for His absence, he simply holds out His arm, helps us up and reminds us He’s never been far and that He’ll skate with us as long as we want Him there. I love that about Him.
Take Action: Nourish your soul with a prayer today, gratefully acknowledge one blessing and ask to have the eyes to see His hand in your life.
This NYT lens piece resonated with me. During our trip to Guatemala last year we frequently heard the words “Mi esposo se fue” or “My husband went.” When you see the poverty, the extreme living conditions, you understand. The reason we went to Guatemala was to empower people and improve conditions there so that the need to immigrate would be less. We wanted to share the goodness, the strength and the hope that America can offer in a place that could use some support. We wanted to strengthen and support the already beautiful Guatemalan culture and people so that both could flourish more fully and bless all of us with their strength. We chose Guatemala because my husband Ritchie has a background there from his two year church mission and we love the people and culture. We didn’t do it from a place of superiority but from a place of gratitude. We thought “We are presently recipients of freedom, beauty, and opportunity and if any of it could be useful to you we will happily share it.” If we all did this, even in just small ways, the world would be such a different place.
1) Identify a country where you could make a difference. It could be a place you dream of visiting, a place you have experience with or a place you’re curious about. We chose one that was easy to get to from our home here in Texas. Ultimately it’s the land and the people you are connecting with.
2) Do a google search for a person or organization doing empowering work in that place and join their Facebook page or email list. It could be a local from the country you’re interested in or a globally-minded person in your country. Once you begin to understand what they do, brainstorm skills you have that could be useful to the organization. Offer those skills and a bit of your time and let me know what happens.
The Lord has always asked His people to sacrifice. It’s looked different throughout Judeo-Christian history but the principle has been constant. Regardless of the sacrifice, Israel of old and the Savior’s followers now are asked to give something to the Lord that puts them in a vulnerable position. That’s the nature of sacrifice right? It hurts a little, or sometimes a lot. We give something we want or love or maybe even need. When the Lord asked Israel to offer up the firstlings of her flocks and her beautiful, unblemished rams, she was handing over very useful, perhaps even vital elements of her livelihood in order to be obedient.
In this day, one of the sacrifices that the Lord asks for is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. A lot of times that feels like willingness to me and I find myself struggling to find clarity in what the Lord is asking me to do. In an effort to wade through the overwhelming number of ways to humbly obey and give of myself, I grapple with words like ‘needful’ and ‘expedient’ and ‘requisite.’ I seek to understand whether a situation is calling for specific talents or time or energy that I can lay on the altar. This intricate dance is one that I get wrong often, either withholding too much or diving in with gusto that I actually can’t sustain. It’s in those moments though, where I have the opportunity to see Him, to have Him teach me where I crossed the “needful” line or what about my offering was just below requisite. I think it’s important to be willing to experiment because the process of learning to sacrifice can have sweet blessings.
I’m especially convinced of this after hand-delivering thank you notes today. Last weekend the Relief Society of our church worked with Catholic Charities to host a Refugee Family Education Day and offer 300+ refugees job and home management classes. I was part of a committee that spent time seeking donations from different individuals/companies in the community so that we could serve lunch at the event. Today I got to return to the donors and tell them how meaningful the event was and how much we appreciated their support. There is something so beautiful and powerful in the recognition between two people that help was requested, received and appreciated. Gratitude adds meaning and perspective to this beautiful circle of life that we’re all connected in.
A few weeks ago on a sunny southern California day, I knelt at the side of my Grandfather’s grave as my dad and I arranged flowers in a makeshift flower dugout (a Titos Tacos cup was all we had and my dad was sure my grandparents would appreciate that more than the flowers).
My grandfather served in the Pacific Theatre during WWII. As with all veterans, his military service could be counted in years but the sacrifices he made for that service spanned his lifetime. As my family and I took a moment to honor this brave and good man my dad looked over at us and said “Guys, trust me, he wouldn’t want us to be here crying, he would want us to be at the beach having fun. He would want us to be living.” While the tears were important, it was a beautiful idea to me, to honor my grief, honor his life and his many sacrifices by living fully.
Viktor Frankl, who lived on the other side of the world and endured his own horrors in concentration camps as my Grandpa hunkered down in island foxholes, said “What is to give light, must endure burning.” Today we feel gratitude for the light offered to us by so many of our fellow humans. I stood up from the grave that day and brushed the dirt off my knees determined to take the light my Grandfather gave me and let it guide me into places where I can offer that same compassion and strength to others who may need it.