Last week, my husband and I took a cruise to celebrate our anniversary. We love traveling together and enjoy being on a cruise ship. This year, we choose to travel on one of the largest ships in the sea. It was massive and had a number of features we had not experienced on previous cruises.
One of my favorite features was finding art in every stairwell, landing and hallway. Each piece of art was curated from a different part of the world. They covered countless countries and cultures. With the luxury of free time, I stopped at different pieces to read about the artist and his/her inspiration.
Each piece took on a new meaning when the artist’s background and what they hoped their work would bring to mind was explained.
Context changes everything.
Unfortunately, context is rarely obvious at first glance. We have to dig deeper to understand the context behind a piece of art. We have to do some research to understand the context of quotes or religious scriptures. We have to build relationships and ask questions to understand the context of human lives, actions and emotions.
I left our trip wanting to work harder to understand the context surrounding the lives of the people around me. It is hard to serve people well if I don’t truly know them.
Here are a few questions I plan to ask more frequently (when appropriate).
- How did the place you are from shape who you are today?
- What are the one or two most defining moments in your life to date? And why?
- What is something people think about you that isn’t true?
- How close is the life you live today from the life you want to live?
These questions may be too personal to ask in some relationships. Don’t be alarmed or offended. Do feel privileged if someone is willing to share any of these answers with you. Clearly, they trust you.
Which question do you think reveals the most about a person?
“Nothing will change if nothing changes”
We know the world needs our help, but it can be hard to know where to start. Start here. Some of the items on the list below are easy and some are a bit harder. Some of the items will take you 30 seconds to complete and others will require a little more time. Most of these are free of expense, but some are not. Use this list if you’re having a hard time channeling your concern over all the tragedies and conflicts in the world into tangible action. It’s our work and NOT simply our compassionate thoughts that change the world. Start small, but start today.
100 Ways to Love on the World
- Send encouragement to someone caring for an aging parent.
- Donate coats and blankets you won’t use often.
- Get to know someone on a deeper level. Who did they love? What did they lose? What matters most to them?
- Enrich a livelihood. Donate to fund a microloan to help people in other parts of the world increase their earning potential.
- Marvel in the power of human expression. Buy tickets to music, dance and other live performances.
- Make an effort to use both sides of your paper.
- Laugh long and hard. Laugh loud enough for others to hear you.
- Plant something and watch it grow.
- Buy art that moves you and says things words can’t.
- Donate batteries to keep lifesaving appliances and smoke detectors working.
- Shop kindly. Choose to shop from companies that donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
- Say no. Knowing you can set limits will give you the confidence to serve more.
- Join a bone marrow registry.
- Raise your awareness of the employee working conditions at the companies you support.
- Help them live the dream and share their art. Dine at chef-owned restaurants.
- Tip generously.
- Advocate for a minimum living wage in your community.
- Put a Band-Aid in your wallet to give away when needed.
- Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
- Learn the warning signs of suicide and take them seriously.
- Buy local produce.
- Hear gossip and refuse to spread it.
- Adopt your next furry family member at a rescue or shelter.
- Plant a passion for service in a child’s heart.
- Keep the craft growing. Support new and independent artists.
- Choose books that broaden your view of the world.
- Shovel your neighbor’s walkway.
- Donate your old computer to a school.
- Offer your home repair skills to the elderly, ill or a military family.
- Learn CPR.
- Register to be an organ donor.
- Be a designated driver.
- Choose to shop at small businesses more often.
- Be bold enough to ask for help. Let someone else experience the gift of giving.
- Make a small change to conserve energy such as not pre-heating your oven or opening it while food cooks.
- Be a connector. Introduce two people with mutual interests or career pursuits.
- Multiply the impact of your donations by joining a giving circle.
- Share a meal with someone you love.
- Brighten a teacher’s day. Send in an unsolicited treat or thank you.
- Treat your spouse to an unexpected display of passion.
- Do online research about the distinction between charity and philanthropy.
- Encourage someone to share their faith with you in a place where it is normally kept quiet (work, school, etc).
- Grant someone the freedom to parent differently than you without judgment.
- Bring a neighbor an unexpected gift.
- Register to vote or correct your voting information.
- Offer an elderly pet owner peace of mind by suggesting you care for their beloved pet whenever they are unable.
- Choose to share something shameful or painful in your past if it will help another feel less alone.
- Rally around an acquaintance going through a difficult time. Sometimes it’s the most unexpected acts of love that touch us the most.
- Act! Move beyond sympathetic thoughts. Vow to do one small thing (donate, advocate, etc.) to address a world problem that seems hopeless.
- Give someone the freedom to live an unconventional life and still be accepted.
- Donate school supplies.
- Offer support to a grieving soul long after the funeral.
- Share a piece of wisdom that only comes with age.
- Make a call and check on an elderly family member.
- Create a disaster plan for your family.
- Give someone a gift you made yourself.
- Take a walk with a loved one. It serves the body and soul.
- Drive cautiously and without distractions.
- Admit you’re biased. We all are. Facing that we have biases (racial, class, religion, etc) helps us to better address our issues and to serve more sincerely.
- Loan someone a book you love.
- Don’t let it sit in a drawer. Give your old cell phone and chargers away or donate them to a charity.
- Treat a pet with kindness and respect.
- Make a small change to conserve water such as not prewashing your dishes before using the dishwasher.
- Donate suitcases to foster children.
- Share public service information (traffic detours, power outages, flood warnings etc.) via social media.
- Turn off and unplug electronics you aren’t using.
- Pick up trash that wasn’t properly discarded.
- Give someone more credit than they deserve.
- Believe someone’s dream is possible. And tell them. They need the support.
- Fight indifference and don’t look away. Let yourself feel sadness when you see a homeless person.
- Tell someone you forgive them. And mean it.
- Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a global or domestic cause you believe in.
- Call someone you usually text and tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
- Pick up an extra item or two from the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.
- Make a small online donation to a global, domestic or community nonprofit with a mission you believe in.
- Practice empathy. Take a few minutes and imagine the struggles of someone you know.
- Listen carefully. People yearn to be heard and understood.
- Thank a healthcare provider for their service.
- Tell someone a joke.
- Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
- Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
- Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
- Pray for someone.
- Teach someone something. Anything.
- Get or stay committed to a recycling program
- Give someone you love your undivided attention.
- Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
- Take time to write a supportive comment to someone on Facebook.
- Hug someone.
- Share any online article that raises awareness of a service need.
- Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
- Leave change in a candy machine.
- Pay the toll for the person behind you.
- Thank a solider for their service.
- Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
- Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
- Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
- Keep your brain sharp and body strong. Serve on!
- Share this post and spread the love around.
- If you love them, tell them.
What are some others?
What a great month! In just the last few weeks, I had Mother’s Day, my wedding anniversary and last night we celebrated the 10th wedding anniversary of family friends. It was a joyous expression of their love and commitment. So much so that my feet are still hurting from all the dancing.
Anniversaries give us a time to honor the important milestones in our lives. We could let these days pass by unmarked, but by celebrating them we renew our gratitude for the original gift. On my anniversary, I was celebrating with my husband but I was also thanking God for sending him into my life. So the physical celebration was between the two of us, but the gratitude was between me and God.
Here are 4 anniversaries you may not be celebrating now, but should consider. This doesn’t have to be an outward celebration. Truthfully, nobody other than you even needs to know about it. You can just set a day to remind yourself to be especially grateful because that’s what an anniversary is all about. Letting more gratitude into your heart WILL motivate you to serve others more.
Four new anniversaries worth celebrating
- The day you gave up something that wasn’t serving your life anymore. Was it a substance you were abusing? Was it an unhealthy attachment to someone? A compulsion to outspend your means? A job you hated? A life that wasn’t authentic? Either way, at one time this thing had a hold on you. And now it doesn’t. Take a day to celebrate that and thank God for seeing you through to the other side.
- The day you met a close friend. If you aren’t sure of the exact date try to agree on your best guess and celebrate that day every year. You can do it with them if you want. But this is more about you acknowledging that they are a blessing in your life. Remember on this day that there was once a time that you could not lean on them for support, but now you can.
- The day you met a teacher that changed your life. This is similar to the day you met a friend, but this person may not share a friendship with you. They may have been your boss or a high school teacher. They may have been someone you didn’t even like at the time or someone that hurt you. But if they came into your life and left you forever different (for the better) you should choose to celebrate that.
- The day you met God. Try to pinpoint the time you first felt God’s presence in your life. This is not about religion; it’s about faith. This is the day you went from “hoping” there was a God to “knowing” there is a God. This is the day your world expanded and the earliest seeds of peace, gratitude and service started growing in your life. This day changed everything. This day is truly worthy of an anniversary. Celebrate it.
What else should we be celebrating?
Disclaimer: I realize that candidly discussing what limits our ability to care about social justice risks offending someone. You may read my thoughts below and think I’m grossly misinformed and misguided. You may think I’m oversimplifying, missing key points or “missing the boat” completely. I understand that and will admit that this list is far from complete. It’s just a start. Feel free to send this around with comments about your thoughts or even how wrong you think I got it. Either way, let’s start talking about why we don’t care about each other. If I’ve gotten it wrong here (and I might have) I want you to correct me because it’s important that I get it right.
Since you decided to read this post, I’m going to make the assumption that you are a “reasonable, good-hearted” person. I don’t need to know your gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, racial nor economic status. All I need to know is that you are an intelligent human being capable of understanding social complexity and feeling compassion.
When discussing injustice there are two points of view – the oppressed minority and the privileged majority. You will likely find yourself moving between categories depending on the issue. For example, if the topic is racial injustice I’m in the oppressed minority but if it is sexual orientation discrimination then I’m in the privileged majority. No matter the issue, you probably prefer to discuss it with those in the same category as you. They likely share your opinions and around the same level of interest (i.e. is this consuming your world, a major issue to keep track of or simply a passing news story.) You many not want to discuss the issue at all. If you are in the oppressed majority, you have little choice but to take notice of topics that directly affect your life. But if you happen to be in the privileged majority, you have options – care a lot, care a little, don’t care at all. I’m hoping to define the factors that play into that decision?
What limits you from caring about injustice and social unrest when you’re in the privileged majority?
- You may be embarrassed by your ignorance and unconscious bias. You may avoid topics about an oppressed minority because you’ve never cared enough to learn much about them. You’re afraid that you will accidently say the wrong thing or express an opinion that opens you up to critique and embarrassment. But here’s the thing, the oppressed minority doesn’t expect you to know much about them. Yes, they would like it if you knew more than stereotypes and characters’. They would also like it if you cared more, but it is definitely NOT an expectation. Your assumption that the oppressed minority expects you to know more about them comes from your own experience of being in the privileged majority. In the privileged majority, your experience is the standard that everyone has to learn. Minority groups don’t expect that. If you’re talking to a “reasonable, good-hearted” person in a minority group they would much rather engage with you in an ill-informed discussion that highlights your unconscious bias than to assume you don’t care about the impact injustice has on their life.
- You don’t want to create conflict within yourself. You walk a delicate balance between privately supporting social justice and not getting so emotionally drawn in that you can’t fight the urge of making your belief more public. You know that publicly supporting the oppressed minority could create tension with the subtle and not so subtle bigots you like and love. They might be your family members or your church members (yes, unfortunately there are church-going bigots) or the people you work with. They don’t know what you support in private, but you are careful not to get too informed or too emotionally drawn in because it may mean that you have less tolerance to ignore the comments and views of the bigots around you. It may get harder to fully believe the reasons why injustice is really the victim’s fault.
- You can’t decide which issues (and how much) you have mental energy for. You have significant problems of your own. Perhaps there is another category for which you are already an oppressed minority and you’re dealing with that struggle. Perhaps you have life circumstances (illness, grief, heart ache, failure, etc) that are consuming your every waking thought. Perhaps you just have a calendar terribly packed full of stressful work and family obligations. It’s probably too selfish to say publicly, but you have enough on your plate to add someone’s injustice. You have a hard enough time being grateful amidst your daily struggles, you don’t want to add any additional negative news nor tough conversations. You wished you cared more about injustice because clearly the oppressed minority is in a some sort of pain, but its easier to make a joke here or there and mostly ignore it. You don’t have the time to question whether it’s worth more time. You don’t have the time to debate your obligation to humanity or your faith. You don’t have the time to ask yourself what kind of life or legacy you want to leave. You’re a “reasonable, good hearted” person but you don’t have the time for justice.
What else should be on this list? What did I get wrong?
Spring cleaning is usually a good time to rid your surroundings of unnecessary clutter. It’s also a good time to think about what “enough” looks like for you. When you have enough it allows you to reallocate some of your money from buying new things to saving for financial security, creating new experiences and investing in the greater good.
But, how many jackets are enough? How many pairs of shoes are enough? How many ties are enough? There’s a good chance that you have more than you “need” in several areas, but how much do you “want”? I hope you will take some time to think that through.
If you decide to take on your closet, attic or garage this month below is a list of questions that may help you decide what to keep and what to donate.
Do I love/need it or should I release it?
- How many items in this category do I think is enough? (i.e. How many T-shirts? Pairs of sneakers? Coffee mugs?)
- If someone stole this item from me, how long would it take to notice it was gone?
- If I didn’t have this exact item, would I to buy it again within the next year?
- If I didn’t have this item, is there something else I’d use in its place?
- If someone offered me the price I paid for this item would I sell it to them?
- How do I feel when I imagine this item meeting a need for someone else?
- Would holding on to this item for one more year reduce its value as a donation?
- Might someone else find more joy in this item than I do?
- Would I give this item away to a friend that kept admiring it?
- After answering these questions do I feel more inspired to keep this item or donate it?
What was the hardest thing you ever let go?
The most common use of the word “winter” describes the season marked by cold weather and bare trees. During Mother Nature’s winter season, we are forced to retreat inside and many things stop growing. The characteristics of a winter season can show up in other parts of our lives too. We let certain things go dormant and experience winters in our careers, relationships, health, and even in our hearts. During these types of winters our focus has to shift from growing to hibernating and healing. It is always difficult to go through times of winter, but it gives us a chance to rebirth something even more beautiful.
The last day of this winter season has already passed, but it seems as if the cold weather is staying with us a bit longer. If you’re coming to the end of any kind of winter, here are 8 questions to ask yourself before temperatures rise. I posted some of these questions last year, but my answers have definitely changed. Have yours?
- What stopped growing for you this winter?
- Do you want to see all, some, or none of it grow back?
- Was your home a place you wanted to retreat to during your winter?
- Who kept you warm during your coldest days?
- What will you do to prepare for the next winter?
- What do you want to plant in your life next?
- Will you have the desire and energy to care for a new blossom?
- How has this winter better equipped you to serve others?
Are you ready for warmer weather?
Relating and helping
Last week, I was sitting in Starbucks reading when the tables closest to me started filling up with young children. There were a total of three women with six children between them. One of the women was holding a baby. Another tried to get her oldest child (who was maybe four years old) to stand in line while they got the other kids settled. Brief fits of crying and whining started but never lasted for too long. People around us (most were working on laptops) begin to get noticeably restless and some started leaving. Every single child in the group was ridiculously cute and simultaneously obnoxious.
For a moment I considered leaving too. I’d read enough already. Then all the sudden I felt a feeling of freedom take over me. I realized that I could get up right then and go to bathroom. Nobody would follow me. No little voices would call my name or demand their needs be met first. I didn’t have to watch nor entertain anyone. I could leave the store all together without putting anyone in a car seat. I could leave without looking for things that may have been thrown on the floor. I could leave without asking for hot water to sanitize a pacifier or heat a bottle.
I couldn’t shake how I was both feeling sensitive to them and feeling grateful that my children are older, now 10 and 12. If my sons were with me they wouldn’t be interrupting anything. I could still read. They would probably be occupied with staring at my oldest son’s cell phone. I was acutely aware of the difference between their experiences with young children and mine with older children.
Then one of the moms says to me. “You can’t read through this can you?” And before I answer another Mom says “I miss reading”. And I totally get what she means because I’ve been there. I know what it feels like to be in their places. I know what it feels like to “miss reading”. So their struggles are real to me. I can see myself in them. And it makes me want to be kind. But most importantly, I noticed how strongly I desired to help them. How much I wanted to go get napkins for them or how much I wanted to help entertain the kids.
This week I’d love to discuss with you the following questions. We can do this through WordPress, Facebook, email or in person. But I’d like your perspective on one or all of the following questions:
- Is it possible to truly relate to a struggle you (or someone you love) have not personally experienced?
- Are you likely to commit most of your time and resources to addressing issues you can relate to?
- Are you more effective at helping when you’ve personally been touched by the hardship?
- Does your faith or spirituality call you to serve beyond what you can relate to?
I don’t know if there are any right answers here, but it’s worth discussing.