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?

 

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?

 

Distracted

“Work is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.”

– Adam Hochschild

 

The first week of January is when many people start their New Year with new goals to eat better and/or eat less. Conventional wisdom tells us that if our goal is to lose weight one key component to success will be to focus on taking in less calories. Resisting high calorie and high fat foods helps reach the goal of weight loss. But what if our goal isn’t to lose weight? What if our goal is to start listening to our calling? We may need to go on a “distraction diet”.

The 10 questions below are meant to help you assess your current level of focus. It will also help you identify energy drains or distractions that may be impeding your progress against goals. As you answer each question make sure to remind yourself that the answer will only be known by you (unless you choose to tell someone). Being honest with yourself will help you identify the things you want more of and the things you want less of. You may also want things to stay just as they are. They are only “distractions” if you’d rather be focused elsewhere.

Are you distracted?

  1. How focused am I on my purpose?
    • Laser focused: I spend almost all my free time thinking about my purpose and working on specific goals.
    • Locked and loaded: I spend a significant amount of my free time thinking about my purpose and working on specific goals.
    • In pursuit: I think about my purpose frequently and occasionally find time to set and work on specific goals.
    • All thoughts, no action: I think about my purpose occasionally but am rarely able to set goals or take steps toward them.
    • Fully distracted: I can barely find any time to think about my purpose and have no goals to act upon.
  2. Do I want to be more focused on my purpose than I currently am?
  3. Do I have enough mental energy to think about my purpose?
  4. If less distracted, could I make enough time in my life to plan goals?
  5. If less distracted, could I make enough time in my life to act upon my goals?
  6. Are there relationships in my life that use up time/energy I’d rather spend on my goals?
  7. Are there leisure activities in my life that use up time/energy I’d rather spend on my goals?
  8. How much time a day would I like to use for taking in information (news, social media, reading online articles, etc.)?
  9. What percentage of the information that I take in daily can be used towards my goals?
  10. How much do I want to increase the daily time I allocate towards information gathering and action items related to my goals?

What questions would you add to this list?

Greenfireworks

This post is not for those of you that have a New Year’s resolution in mind already. It is meant for people that do not plan to make a resolution, yet still want to reflect on and shape the year ahead. If that is you, I suggest making a pledge instead. A New Year’s pledge reflects the beliefs and commitments that will guide your next year of life. Pledges don’t prescribe specific actions, but they do convey specific intentions. Below is an example of a New Year’s pledge.  This example is especially helpful if you hope to serve more (or better) next year. See you in 2015!

Sample New Year’s Pledge

“This year, I will pay close attention to the things I enjoy and make me feel alive. I will take notice of those things especially if I do them better than most. I will properly recognize those things as God-given gifts. I will not diminish my gifts with false humility nor by trivializing them to be merely individual passions, hobbies or personality traits. I will see my gifts as rare and special and given to me on purpose. I will frequently remind myself that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I will honor God by finding ways to use my unique gifts to help others and to better this world. My good intentions will result in tangible actions and not just thoughts or words. I will use my gifts more this year than I used them last year.”

Please feel free to share this sample pledge broadly and to share your pledge with those you trust. Sharing increases your commitment. Happy New Year!

What are you pledging in 2015?

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?

 

HolidayCooking

I do a lot of cooking around the holidays. But most of my life, I hated to cook. It was a chore and something I thought I wasn’t good at. When I started dating my husband, I realized that home cooked meals were acts of service for him. Cooking for him has become a key way I remind myself that love requires action and work. I cook for him (and our family) regularly and with a joyful heart. I even dare to say I’ve gotten good at it over the years. Once you get motivated to do something, you usually get better and better with practice.

This is how I’d like you to think about your holiday giving strategy this year. You may already be feeling motived to give, but not sure how to do it in a way that has real and lasting impact. Some years you may have been content with kind acts of charity that reaped immediate rewards. These acts include things like toy drives and providing food for holiday meals. These are generous gestures and clearly quality ways to give. But this year, you may be ready to go a step further.

You may be asking yourself the following question:

  • Do I want my impact on families to last longer than one holiday?

Which may lead to you to a question like:

  • Why don’t the parents have enough money for food or toys?

Which may lead to you to a question like:

  • Why don’t the parents have jobs that provide them with adequate financial resources?

Which may lead to you to more questions like:

  • Are there quality mental health services in place to get parents employable again?
  • Can parents truly focus on employment and education if they don’t have secure housing?
  • Are there laws and systems in place so parents can earn a living wage?

This list doesn’t even begin to cover all the paths your questions could lead you to. It is just meant to show you how “peeling the onion” on needs may lead you to a giving strategy that goes beyond the holidays. It may lead you to a greater focus on social change and not just charity. You may still want to give food and toys to needy families which is great. Just give in a way that best aligns with the love and impact you hope to provide this holiday.

Happy Giving Tuesday Everyone!

I hope you will take a moment to share online how and where you give using #GivingTuesday. As a close friend of mine said this morning, “Let’s break the internet with something that matters!”

 

RealThanksgiving

If you only read your Facebook feed you might forget about the Thanksgiving dinners held in the shadow of grief or in the aftermath of divorce. Television commercials seem to forget about the lonely Thanksgivings, the sad Thanksgivings and the angry Thanksgivings happening all around us. Life is not about constant happy moments and there is a good chance you have or will experience a tough Thanksgiving in your lifetime. Which presents an opportunity to “keep it real” with others that are having a difficult time this week.

As you experience the holiday of gratitude, remember to reach out to those dealing with life trials you’ve faced and overcome.  Maybe they’re making the same mistakes you’ve made. Maybe they’re struggling with the same grief process you’ve had to make peace with. For me, I’m reflecting on the times I failed myself. I’m reflecting on the times I failed to be who I hoped I was and the shame that came along with that. I’m inspired to tell someone else at that same point of despair that I understand. I’ve been where they are and the pain is not permanent.

If there is one way I’d encourage you to serve this week, it would be to lovingly open up to someone going through a challenge you uniquely understand.  Turn your gratitude into an opportunity to serve.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Thanksgiving pie

This is the time of year when family recipes are anxiously awaiting their holiday arrival. Usually there are several family favorites that stand out on any Thanksgiving menu. For us it is my mother’s sweet potato pie and her baked macaroni and cheese. These recipes require a lot of labor – peeling sweet potatoes and grating cheese until our arms go numb! But we press on. We’re certain that those dishes are worth the extra effort.

I read a quote recently by Brené Brown in which she said “Love requires tenacity and grit. It’s work. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.” This quote can almost sound scary, but it isn’t. It is just making clear that the ingredients of love are not things easily prepared. Sweet potatoes don’t peel themselves and the ingredients of love won’t come to you without effort.

Preparing Love’s Ingredients

  1. Vulnerability: We are starting here because vulnerability is where love begins and how it deepens. Vulnerability takes courage and it takes action. You have to dedicate time and effort to discovering and expressing your true feelings, dreams, passions and fears. You have to build the courage to show someone who you really are (not who you think they want you to be). In doing so, you bravely face potential rejection and/or judgment. Not an easy ingredient to prepare but absolutely essential in the recipe of love.
  2. Respect: Many people think respect is a feeling you have for someone. As an ingredient of love, respect is more about your actions than your feelings. Take a moment to think of someone you respect. Ask yourself, do you allow them to get their full thought out before you start speaking? Do you value their opinions enough to let it change your mind? Do you value their judgment enough to let them make choices without any of your input? If your answers to these questions are consistently “No” you may want to evaluate whether your actions are matching your feelings. Love requires that you “show” respect to those you love not that you simply “feel” it.
  3. Service: Service is all about action; it’s about work. That might not be sexy, but it is the backbone of love. You cannot love someone and be unwilling to do things for them (big and small). Regularly evaluate if your actions are helping and supporting the people you truly love.
  4. Gratitude: One of the many benefits of love is that it reminds us of our value as human beings. When someone loves us, they give us the reminder that we are special and we are worthy. When we love someone else, we are to be actively reminding them of their value. To do that task, we have to cultivate and express our gratitude for them and the things they do for us. Is there anyone you love that doesn’t know how much you value them? Tell them today.

How did I do?

Are these the four most important ingredients in the recipe of love?

FallThanks

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I have to admit it; I’m one of those people that doesn’t wait until after Thanksgiving to start my holiday season. I’m singing carols and thinking about Christmas decorations already. I know it’s wrong since Thanksgiving hasn’t passed yet. I just can’t seem to help myself. I know that Thanksgiving deserves better.

Thanksgiving is a tremendous holiday marked with amazing food and thoughts of gratitude and community. If you want to put the spirit of Thanksgiving into action right now, below are 70 simple ways to get started. Why wait?

70 Ways to Live Your Gratitude

  1. Send encouragement to someone taking care of an aging parent.
  2. Rake your neighbor’s leaves.
  3. Donate coats and blankets you won’t use often.
  4. Register to be an organ donor.
  5. Be bold enough to ask for help. Let someone else experience the gift of giving.
  6. Get to know someone on a deeper level. Who did they love? What did they lose? What matters most to them?
  7. Be a connector. Introduce two people with mutual interests or career pursuits.
  8. Multiply the impact of your donations by joining a giving circle.
  9. Share this post to give others ideas on gratitude in action.
  10. Brighten a teacher’s day. Send in an unsolicited treat or thank you.
  11. Treat your spouse to an unexpected display of passion.
  12. Do online research about the distinction between charity and philanthropy.
  13. Encourage someone to share their faith with you in a place where it is normally kept quiet (work, school, etc).
  14. Grant someone the freedom to parent differently than you without judgment.
  15. Bring a neighbor an unexpected gift.
  16. Register to vote or correct your voting information.
  17. Offer an elderly pet owner peace of mind by suggesting you care for their beloved pet whenever they are unable.
  18. Choose to share something shameful or painful in your past if it will help another feel less alone.
  19. Rally around an acquaintance going through a difficult time. Sometimes it’s the most unexpected acts of love that touch us the most.
  20. Act! Move beyond sympathetic thoughts. Vow to do one small thing (donate, advocate, etc.) to address a problem that seems hopeless.
  21. Cut a neighbor’s grass.
  22. Donate school supplies.
  23. Offer support to a grieving soul long after the funeral.
  24. Share a piece of wisdom that only comes with age.
  25. Make a call and check on an elderly family member.
  26. Laugh long and hard. Laugh loud enough for others to hear you.
  27. Give someone a gift you made yourself.
  28. Say no. Knowing you can set limits will give you the confidence to serve more.
  29. Take a walk with a loved one. It serves the body and soul.
  30. 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.
  31. Loan someone a book you love.
  32. Don’t let it sit in a drawer. Give your old cell phone and chargers away or donate them to a charity.
  33. Treat a pet with kindness and respect.
  34. Share public service information (traffic detours, power outages, flood warnings etc.) via social media.
  35. Turn off and unplug electronics you aren’t using.
  36. Pick up trash that wasn’t properly discarded.
  37. Give someone more credit than they deserve.
  38. Hear gossip and refuse to spread it.
  39. Believe someone’s dream is possible. And tell them. They need the support.
  40. Fight indifference. Let yourself feel sadness when you see a homeless person.
  41. Tell someone you forgive them. And mean it.
  42. Put a Band-Aid in your wallet to give away when needed.
  43. Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
  44. Call someone you usually text and tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
  45. Pick up an extra item or two from the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.
  46. Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
  47. Practice empathy. Take a few minutes and imagine the struggles of someone you know.
  48. Listen carefully. Many people yearn to be heard.
  49. Thank a healthcare provider for their service.
  50. Tell someone a joke.
  51. Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
  52. Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
  53. Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
  54. Pray for someone.
  55. Teach someone something. Anything.
  56. Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
  57. Give someone you love your undivided attention.
  58. Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
  59. Take time to write a supportive comment to someone on Facebook.
  60. Hug someone.
  61. Share any online article that raises awareness of a service need.
  62. Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
  63. Leave change in a vending machine.
  64. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
  65. Thank a solider for their service.
  66. Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
  67. Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
  68. Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
  69. Serve this service blog. Send via email or social media one idea to quickly put the spirit of service into action.
  70. If you love them, tell them.

This list has been building all year.

Which ones have you done already?

Which ones do you plan to try next?

Community

They say, “it takes a village to raise a child” and I’ve always loved that expression. I love it not just as a parent, but as a person that wants to be part of a village. Many of us long for the acceptance and support that comes from being a member of a broader community. Having a sense of community is also known to fuel service. Yet this sense of community has become harder to have in our modern lives. There are many reasons for that, but we can easily change some of those reasons if we want to.

Below you’ll find a few personal questions. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers – only “your” answers. They will highlight the value you place on building community in your life when faced with the tradeoffs. Your value for community may be higher than you expect. That should inspire you to make space in your life for “community” to form. Alternatively, your value may be lower than you expect. That should give you peace to live without worrying that you’re missing out on something you really want.

Privacy vs. Community

Definitions:

Privacy: The state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.

Community: A feeling of connection and fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Considerations:

Building the relationships that lead to community will require sharing personal information, authentic thoughts and genuine feelings. Choosing community will reduce your privacy.

Questions:

What’s more important privacy or community? How much privacy (if any) would you be willing to give up to build a sense of community?

Self-sufficiency vs. Community

Definitions:

Self-sufficiency: The state of not requiring any aid, support, or interaction for survival.

Community: A feeling of connection and fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Considerations:

Building the relationships that lead to community will require dependency on others for emotional support, but also for help with tangible tasks. Choosing community will reduce your self-sufficiency.

Questions:

What’s more important self- sufficiency or community? How much self-sufficiency (if any) would you be willing to give up to build a sense of community?

Efficiency vs. Community

Definitions:

Efficiency: The ability to accomplish a task or job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort.

Community: A feeling of connection and fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Considerations:

Building a community requires effort and time investment that is often otherwise spent completing more tangible professional or personal tasks. Choosing community may reduce your efficiency.

Questions:

What’s more important efficiency or community? How much efficiency (if any) would you be willing to give up to build a sense of community?

 

Is community worth it for you?