Serving Personal Relationships

Four questions to ask your friends (or anyone you want to know better).

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Art Child

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).

  1. How did the place you are from shape who you are today?
  2. What are the one or two most defining moments in your life to date? And why?
  3. What is something people think about you that isn’t true?
  4. 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?

 

Four anniversaries you probably aren’t celebrating, but should be.

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Celebrate

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

 

100 ways to love on the world

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Lovetree

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Whether you look forward to Valentine’s Day or despise it, I’m sure we can all agree that the world would benefit from more attention on love (and not just the romantic kind). Below is the list of 100 simple, loving, compassionate and gratitude-inspiring actions you can start checking off immediately.

Share the love!

100 Ways to Love on the World

  1. Send encouragement to someone caring for an aging parent.
  2. Donate coats and blankets you won’t use often.
  3. Get to know someone on a deeper level. Who did they love? What did they lose? What matters most to them?
  4. Enrich a livelihood. Donate to fund a microloan to help people in other parts of the world increase their earning potential.
  5. Marvel in the power of human expression. Buy tickets to music, dance and other live performances.
  6. Make an effort to use both sides of your paper.
  7. Laugh long and hard. Laugh loud enough for others to hear you.
  8. Plant something and watch it grow.
  9. Buy art that moves you and says things words can’t.
  10. Donate batteries to keep lifesaving appliances and smoke detectors working.
  11. Shop kindly. Choose to shop from companies that donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
  12. Say no. Knowing you can set limits will give you the confidence to serve more.
  13. Join a bone marrow registry.
  14. Raise your awareness of the employee working conditions at the companies you support.
  15. Help them live the dream and share their art. Dine at chef-owned restaurants.
  16. Tip generously.
  17. Advocate for a minimum living wage in your community.
  18. Put a Band-Aid in your wallet to give away when needed.
  19. Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
  20. Learn the warning signs of suicide and take them seriously.
  21. Buy local produce.
  22. Hear gossip and refuse to spread it.
  23. Adopt your next furry family member at a rescue or shelter.
  24. Plant a passion for service in a child’s heart.
  25. Keep the craft growing. Support new and independent artists.
  26. Choose books that broaden your view of the world.
  27. Shovel your neighbor’s walkway.
  28. Donate your old computer to a school.
  29. Offer your home repair skills to the elderly, ill or a military family.
  30. Learn CPR.
  31. Register to be an organ donor.
  32. Be a designated driver.
  33. Choose to shop at small businesses more often.
  34. Be bold enough to ask for help. Let someone else experience the gift of giving.
  35. Make a small change to conserve energy such as not pre-heating your oven or opening it while food cooks.
  36. Be a connector. Introduce two people with mutual interests or career pursuits.
  37. Multiply the impact of your donations by joining a giving circle.
  38. Share a meal with someone you love.
  39. Brighten a teacher’s day. Send in an unsolicited treat or thank you.
  40. Treat your spouse to an unexpected display of passion.
  41. Do online research about the distinction between charity and philanthropy.
  42. Encourage someone to share their faith with you in a place where it is normally kept quiet (work, school, etc).
  43. Grant someone the freedom to parent differently than you without judgment.
  44. Bring a neighbor an unexpected gift.
  45. Register to vote or correct your voting information.
  46. Offer an elderly pet owner peace of mind by suggesting you care for their beloved pet whenever they are unable.
  47. Choose to share something shameful or painful in your past if it will help another feel less alone.
  48. Rally around an acquaintance going through a difficult time. Sometimes it’s the most unexpected acts of love that touch us the most.
  49. Act! Move beyond sympathetic thoughts. Vow to do one small thing (donate, advocate, etc.) to address a world problem that seems hopeless.
  50. Give someone the freedom to live an unconventional life and still be accepted.
  51. Donate school supplies.
  52. Offer support to a grieving soul long after the funeral.
  53. Share a piece of wisdom that only comes with age.
  54. Make a call and check on an elderly family member.
  55. Create a disaster plan for your family.
  56. Give someone a gift you made yourself.
  57. Take a walk with a loved one. It serves the body and soul.
  58. Drive cautiously and without distractions.
  59. 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.
  60. Loan someone a book you love.
  61. Don’t let it sit in a drawer. Give your old cell phone and chargers away or donate them to a charity.
  62. Treat a pet with kindness and respect.
  63. Make a small change to conserve water such as not prewashing your dishes before using the dishwasher.
  64. Donate suitcases to foster children.
  65. Share public service information (traffic detours, power outages, flood warnings etc.) via social media.
  66. Turn off and unplug electronics you aren’t using.
  67. Pick up trash that wasn’t properly discarded.
  68. Give someone more credit than they deserve.
  69. Believe someone’s dream is possible. And tell them. They need the support.
  70. Fight indifference and don’t look away. Let yourself feel sadness when you see a homeless person.
  71. Tell someone you forgive them. And mean it.
  72. Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a global or domestic cause you believe in.
  73. Call someone you usually text and tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
  74. Pick up an extra item or two from the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.
  75. Make a small online donation to a global, domestic or community nonprofit with a mission you believe in.
  76. Practice empathy. Take a few minutes and imagine the struggles of someone you know.
  77. Listen carefully. People yearn to be heard and understood.
  78. Thank a healthcare provider for their service.
  79. Tell someone a joke.
  80. Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
  81. Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
  82. Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
  83. Pray for someone.
  84. Teach someone something. Anything.
  85. Get or stay committed to a recycling program
  86. Give someone you love your undivided attention.
  87. Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
  88. Take time to write a supportive comment to someone on Facebook.
  89. Hug someone.
  90. Share any online article that raises awareness of a service need.
  91. Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
  92. Leave change in a candy machine.
  93. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
  94. Thank a solider for their service.
  95. Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
  96. Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
  97. Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
  98. Keep your brain sharp and body strong. Serve on!
  99. Share this post and spread the love around.
  100. If you love them, tell them.

 

What am I missing?

Pain and privilege

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Cracks

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

-Leonard Cohen

After last week’s post (The privilege to live without open wounds), I had the following exchange with a reader who gave me permission to share it below. I think it speaks to the journey we are going on together and the discussion I hope you will join into.

 

Reader: 

“Living with open wounds”…as with most things, often a lot of grey area in that. Totally get that in the article you do not mean to address a certain level of trauma. “I’m not talking about people that had tough romantic breakups or are dealing with the unfortunate but predictable sadness that life can bring.” For many people things can be clearly categorized. Upon first glance I would fall into the privileged category…I am hardly the first to be divorced after a long marriage, have parents deceased, had someone die in his arms, etc. And I do consider myself privileged. But my oldest daughter is MR (the term Du Jour is Intellectual Disability). Make no mistake, I do feel blessed to have her! But I see the things she will never have in her life, the things that for some reason were determined for her before she had a chance to have a say about anything in her life. Because my love for my child is endless, it forever shock my faith in God … why did he allow this with my sweet little innocent? Please, I am not looking for spiritual or religious advice…been there, done that, still doing that, it is a constant in my spiritual life. But I do consider it “Living with an open wound” because if you love someone impacted in such a way, it is a constant tear at the heart. Again, I feel privileged in other aspects in my life, and I feel blessed to have her as my daughter. I just bring this up to point out that this discussion can have multiple layers within multiple layers. Wounds can leave “gaping wounds in the heart and psyche” and “derail your potential” in subtle ways. They can drag you down or serve as motivators. And they can do both at the same time! Definitely a thought provoking topic.

 

Me: 

Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I had to give the post a title, but I realize that people have wounds of all kinds. In this case, I was speaking specifically of the wounds that come from dramatic trauma that usually includes violence of some kind. But really my point is that we all have painful disadvantages in life. Suffering is not trivial no matter what caused it. You make that point eloquently and I certainly can see where you struggle with things that many (to include me) do not. But there’s something powerful about considering the pain that you/we DON’T have. Often we are so consumed with the pain we DO have that we don’t give the emotional energy needed to let others pain in. We may feel we don’t owe the world anything because we’re still suffering too. I think it is worth trying to feel more despite the pain that is uniquely ours. Because until we can care about what goes on with our brothers, we won’t really care enough to help them. So that’s my point with these posts. But know that I am sending you extra love and am grateful for your ability to engage in these kinds of conversations.

What does “privilege” mean to you? Are you privileged?

 

The privilege to live without open wounds.

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Openwounds

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”

–Brené Brown

Has life been kind to you? Are you privileged? If so, in what ways and by how much? Do your disadvantages in life outweigh your advantages? Are they about even? Are you more advantaged than disadvantaged?

How you answer these questions has a direct link with your level of gratitude, happiness and purpose. So these are not small questions. These are big questions. They are arguably the most important questions you will ever answer. Which is why I want us to take our time and explore them together.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll discuss the topic of privilege. Especially the question of “how much privilege do you have?” At times you may realize that you have a disadvantage that many others don’t have. But you probably knew that already. We tend to be pretty good at seeing where life has been unfair to us. Yet at other times, I hope you’ll see your advantages in a new light. I hope you will pause to see that despite your hardships there are many circumstances where you are privileged. And I hope you will start wondering why you’ve been so blessed.

First a disclaimer, often when the topic of “privilege” is discussed it is applied to the privileges granted to certain groups by racial or socioeconomic factors. We will not be using the word in this way. Instead, we will be going a layer (or two) below that to draw out what your privileges actually mean in terms of your daily experiences and your life options. Today we will explore the privilege to live without open wounds.

Living without open wounds

I decided to start with this privilege because there are very large groups on both sides of this coin. There are many people living with the open wounds of trauma. People that literally can’t fall asleep or start their day without replaying memories of how the bomb destroyed their house and killed their family. Perhaps, they can’t forget the day they were raped or forced to commit murder. Maybe they aren’t able to make it out of bed today because of PTSD or deep bouts of depression. In this case, I’m not talking about people that had tough romantic breakups or are dealing with the unfortunate but predictable sadness that life can bring. I’m talking about major trauma and suffering that leaves gaping wounds in the heart and psyche. Wounds that stunt your growth as a person, derail your potential and make simply functioning and appearing normal the goal of every day.

Is this you?

If so, know that I’m praying for you. Know that I believe in a God of healing and recovery.

Is this NOT you?

It’s not me. And that’s a privilege. It’s a privilege that makes no sense to me. Why some of us get to think about Starbucks and our favorite TV shows and others get to battle mental demons all day long. It’s unfair. It’s a gross, wild, crazy, tragic privilege. And we shouldn’t forget it. Take some time to think on that as you go through your week. How would your day today be different if you didn’t have this privilege? What would it mean to your job if you were living with open wounds? What would it mean for your family? What would it mean for your ability to leisurely read this post? I hope you’ll think on it and share it for others to consider as well. See you next week.

What does “privilege” mean to you?

 

Serving a Grieving Soul.

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Pottery

A year ago today, I posted about grief on the first anniversary of my grandfather’s death. My family received many of the blessings below and today felt like the right time to share that post again. The current list starts with one very important addition that someone shared in the comments of the original post. I’d love your help in making this list even better. Please share your thoughts if you see something missing. There will never be a shortage of grieving souls to serve.

5 Ways to Serve a Grieving Soul

  1. Allow them to grieve on their own terms. As one reader explained, “There is no set time frame when someone should no longer grieve. There is no specific way. It is important to listen and respect their grief process.” I’d also add to not try to make their grief process look like your own. What worked for you, may not work for them.
  2. Fill in the gaps of their life. Picture the person grieving as a large rock in a glass jar. The glass jar represents their life before the loss. The people that are supporting them during the initial phase of loss (before and directly after the funeral) are the sand that will be poured in the jar until it is full. This image is important because it will help guide you on how to serve them. They will need help with basic tasks like having meals available, getting space to rest appropriately, and handling a number of routine chores that inevitably seem hard to focus on. An example of this would be to make sure any pets they might have are taken care of or filling their prescriptions. Look for gaps and fill them in. It is likely you will have to identify and suggest the areas to serve for them. At this stage, they may be too numb and detached to ask for help.
  3. Help them re-frame what “doing better” looks like. As the grief process moves along, the intense periods of sadness and despair tend to become less frequent but the intensity of the grief (once it reappears) can be the same or stronger. This can be alarming to the person in grief as they “thought they were getting better.” Be there to remind them that these episodes of intense sadness are normal and that longer time between episodes is a sign they are “getting better”.
  4. Share your joy. It is a human instinct to heal the soul. Grieving people aren’t sad by choice; they want to feel better. Don’t be afraid to share happy stories or engage them in fun activities. Check in to make sure you are doing that respectfully and on a pace they feel comfortable with, but actively try to show them the counterpoint to grief. Love and enjoy them.
  5. Commit to a longer healing process. You never get over losing a person you love so in some ways grief is never done. I’ve talked to many people that have experienced significant periods of grief and it is clear that the one-year mark tends to be viewed as a disappointing milestone. Many consciously or subconsciously assumed that they would feel better adjusted after a year had gone by. It was a reasonable assumption as they had gotten through all the “first” holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. What they often found was that the second year (and the second set of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries) were even more bitter because they had expected to feel better by then. They also found themselves with less support as people had assumed they’d gotten them through the hardest part already. Make a commitment to stay very present and supportive for a minimum of two years (and likely even longer).

What would you add?

 

The song to sing when you don’t feel like celebrating the holidays.

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Christmaslist

“Do you remember me?

 I sat upon your knee

 I wrote to you

 With childhood fantasies”

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a favorite Christmas carol every year. I pretend that I select this song myself, but really the song selects me. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I fire up my holiday playlists and wait to see what song I start singing in the shower or while standing in an elevator. This year that song is definitely “My Grown Up Christmas List.”

 “Well, I’m all grown up now

 And still need help somehow

 I’m not a child

 But my heart still can dream”

For many people, this holiday season is bittersweet. In the midst of a season known for peace and love we are bombarded with grief, sorrow, disappointment and even rage. For some they are dealing with personal tragedies and heartaches. Many others are fighting injustices. Even more are struggling with the painful loneliness that accompanies a guarded or closed heart.

“So here’s my lifelong wish

 My grown up Christmas list

 Not for myself

 But for a world in need”

I’ve been questioning the best way to celebrate my Christmas this year. Can I ignore those in pain and dive blindly into gift giving and decorating? Should I condemn the holiday festivities I love as trivial in a world with much more serious problems?

“But heaven only knows

 That packages and bows

 Can never heal

 A hurting human soul”

Yet, I need holiday spirit this year more than ever. I need to remember what we are actually celebrating. Christmas marks the start of Jesus’ life, but as we all know, that life was not easy. It is a story with birth, enormous pain, death and ultimately renewed life. I need the reminder that our world can and will heal as we learn to love and serve each other better.  I need to be reminded to celebrate the start of change even if the journey is just beginning. And most importantly, I need the reminder that there is a divine order that goes beyond my own understanding.

 “No more lives torn apart

 That wars would never start

 And time would heal all hearts

 And everyone would have a friend

 And right would always win

 And love would never end”

This year, it’s helped me to focus on what I’d add to my grown-up Christmas list. I’m celebrating believing that those things will one day arrive. Are you ready to celebrate the holidays? Is your heart open to the promise of healing and the promise of change? Are you inspired to serve?

What’s on your grown-up Christmas list?