Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Tale of Two Feet

Today while walking across the campus at work to retrieve lunch from the cafeteria, I followed behind a lady who was saundering along. I noticed her attire and quietly wondered to myself, "I'm not sure that is up to the dress code." She sported a pair of capri pants that were wrinkly with a top that resembled a cotton tee shirt.  But what I noticed most was her feet that moved slowly.  Her black sandals appeared to be comfortable and somewhat nice. It was at that moment when I caught my analyzing slipping into judgement.  You know, the way we human beings review another's appearance or behavior through our own limited experiences and our own personal filter.

I took the opportunity to correct my thoughts and go deeper.  I gazed deeply upon her feet as she continued to walk in slow motion with her head tilted down.  The cracks in her heals were difficult to look at.  I didn't realize feet could look like that on someone who was not bedridden. I quickly compared them to mine.  Again, correcting myself, I forced deeper thinking.  I wondered if she was a mother or grandmother.  Perhaps a great-grandmother.  I wondered if she was so busy with the people part of life that she didn't have the time or energy left to care for her feet.  I wondered how many hours in a day she sits at her desk or how many days in a lifetime she sits.  I wondered if she is caring for an ill parent or spouse or child.  I wondered just what her life might be like beyond work.

[Now, be assured that I am observing the whole demeanor of this woman to sense an unjoyfulness.  Not just her feet.  But they seemed to catch my attention the most.]  

I also wondered what I most often wonder when encountering people at work.  "Was she wasting her life?  Was she at such a joy deficit with something in her life?  Did she enjoy her work?  Did she find value in the service that she provided?  Do others tell her of her worth at work or at home? Did she settle for this job as a cost for some other area of greatness in her life?"

I try to wonder about other people, not through my eyes but theirs.  I am a people watcher.  I have always been.  One of the most inconceivable things to me is people who go a full lifetime without finding joy in their jobs.  I have no solid evidence that she does not have joy in her job.  I suspect another 40 years will still not be enough for me to understand completely the circumstances that others endure - or acquire even merely a portion.  I wonder about disappointments.  Lately my most intense people watching has been done by pondering, "What opportunity costs does this individual pay, and what did he/she gain?  Is it worth it?"

In my own life, I have had a series of events that have caused me to pause and earnestly ponder, "Is the cost too much?" There are periods in life where we must all pay a cost.  When bearing children, we bear the cost of body changes and financial burden.  When serving in the military (or have loved ones who do), we bear the cost of missing family members for periods of time and sometimes forever.  When moving away for work, we bear the cost of not getting regular hugs from our family and friends we leave behind.

There are costs of all kinds to us and others.  I am reminded of Rick Warren's statement, "Every act of our lives strikes some cord that will vibrate in eternity." (Purpose Driven Life, 2002)  Indeed the costs for the choices we make, whether on a whim or based upon a deeply held personal belief, impact not only us but also those around us both today and in the future.

There are also costs of standing firm for what we believe in and for taking the disciplined steps necessary to move towards our heartfelt vision on how we can each change the world.  This is whether from an international platform or the platform of a bed of grass while talking to a lonely neighbor.  These costs are cumulative and often appear at seasons when our cost-vision is clearer for a period.  I believe these seasons come with birthdays or loss milestones or with life changes such as a job, family situation, or geographical move.  The costs are firm proof of our humanity.  It is painful to see and to feel these costs.

It is this very proof of our humanity that we should embrace.  I would personally do well to embrace these painful moments of counting costs with gratitude.  Since I am in a season of counting costs, I will put down my pen and lift up my hands with thanks.  I am deeply thankful for having something to count as a cost.  It's not easy being thankful.  After all, I am also human.

In the end, none of us can answer for someone else, "Is the cost worth it?"  For none of us has the full picture into the circumstances and the hearts of others.  Not even by looking at their feet.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Privilege of Blueberries

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and blueberries make it just wonderful!  Nearly every morning, I enjoy eating blueberries.  Sometimes I add them to oatmeal or cereal.  Sometimes I eat a bowl of them with an egg on the side.  Blueberries are just one of those things that please my palate.  And I have the luxury of eating them almost every single day.

While making out my grocery list this evening, I added blueberries as normal.  I paused for a moment to think about how I came to like blueberries so much.  I did not come to any conclusion.  However, my meandering mind brought me back to my childhood.  I really don't ever recall eating fresh blueberries as a child.  There were times where we got to eat blueberry muffins because there were boxes of blueberry muffin mix that came from the local food pantry.  That was always such a treat.  Inside these boxed muffin mixes were either dried blueberry-like bits or cans of really, really small blueberries.  It amazes me how big and luscious blueberries can actually be!

Tomorrow I will go to the grocery store and return with the items on my list.  They will go into my refrigerator and pantry.  Each time I put away groceries, I take a deep breath and surmise that I probably have more groceries in my home than my mother did those many years ago.  As one of six children, I can recall playing inside the empty cabinets.  Those were fond memories that bring about mixed emotions.  My heart is heavy for my mother for enduring those years of such poverty.  I make sure to not get stuck there in my heart and mind.  Our lives are much different today.  We all are very appreciative and are happily paying it forward.

So often in life our blessings grow.  I love when I find an opportunity to measure this growth.  Today I measure my blessings by the size of blueberries.  Now I will need to double check to ensure that my giving has grown along with the blueberries.  Once again I ask, "How am I stewarding my resources?"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Visible Living

I aim to live with strong purpose and to live that purpose out loud. 

Growing up I had the opportunity to learn first hand what it feels like to live in poverty.  I had the privilege of receiving government commodities such as cheese and peanut butter.  I learned what it means for a mother to focus all of her energies on the very basics of life.  I learned that food stamps are very important to society.  I learned that a family working together matters and that yields progress.  Most importantly I learned that people genuinely care and that community is very important.

Always the curious one, I was an avid people watcher.  Some of my observations included the remarks, made by others in poverty, about the business owners and others in the community whose names were known around town.  I also observed some of the very positive actions of those in the community whose names were known.  These people were always a mystery to me.  I wondered why they help others.  I wondered how they lived their lives.  I wondered if there must be more to their stories.  Today, I mostly still do not know.  And that makes me sad because many of these amazing and caring individuals made such a difference in my life.  I still want to know the whole story.

While I continue uncovering the why of others, I have made significant strides in defining the why for myself.  It is a why that I am inclined to hold privately yet, at the same time, long to shout it from the rooftops.  Holding my why privately enables me to avoid crass comments targeted towards me.  At the same time I long to set an example for others.  The later of the two is winning out.  And the sting of the crass comments becomes almost a moot point shadowed by the sweet fruit of giving.

My why is that people matter.  Everybody matters regardless of circumstance, economic status, or even physical and emotional attributes.  The bottom line is that we are all trying to get through life.  Let's do it together.

Today my family's circumstance is much different.  Tremendous good has come from our past experiences.  My entire extended family is better because of this journey.  I suspect the momentum we gained by paddling through those circumstances continues on today.  My entire family gives back.  We pay it forward through giving, volunteerism, mentoring, and participating in community.  We intentionally grow the next generation.  At the same time, we are just like any other famly.

Community is very important.  As a member of community, I recognize that it is my responsibility to participate.  I do.  By sharing my experiences I hope others will be encouraged to participate; to share their stories; to be encouraged their most basic needs are seen.

Know that my giving is a mere fractional sampling of what is done in the community as a whole.  As I strive to live visibly, I need grace.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Moment of Pause

As I help my friends and family celebrate yet another Mother's Day, I take my usual moment of pause.  During this brief moment, I journey through my past, present, and future.  I ask myself important questions that I have asked so many times before. 

Who am I?  What am I doing?  Does what I am doing matter?  Is it the right thing for me?  Better yet, is it the right thing for others?  Am I fulfilling my purpose in life?

As a single woman who has no children, I wholeheartly support the institutions of family and marriage.  For many years I longed to have a family of my own.  While my desire to have my own children dissipates with age, for practical reasons, I have a burning ambition within to make an important difference in the lives of others.  I long to make my life count in the best possible way it was meant to be.  I never want to be accused of being an underachiever when it comes to using my life to make a difference in the lives of others.

For the past 11 years, I have been on a mission to not waste my life.  The road along this mission has been a winding pathway sometimes strewn with debris that entangles me.  Escaping this entanglement builds necessary strength and character.  I despise the entanglement yet marvel at the precious results that are visible sometimes only long after the escape.

I like my jouney.  I like that I have developed a passion for giving back even more than what has been handed to me.  I like that I have grown to have a fondness for the political process, that I have gained a vision for how I can impact health and poverty on a national and perhaps international level.

Yes, life is valuable.  Where I have been makes me who I am today.  And I am using the vision I have for my future to fuel the action plan that I execute today.  All of my resources are extended toward this process.  I have full confidence in a great return on investment.  There is no other option.

Everything counts. Every moment. Every throught. Every action. Every dollar.

The question then becomes not "Can I do more?" but rather "What more can I be doing?".