Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Many Parts

My sister and I often catch-up while I’m cleaning the kitchen and she’s driving somewhere. Most of the time, it’s your simple sisterly exchange-of-love-and-information phone call.

Laurie has been volunteering with SafePlace, a shelter for battered and abused women (and their children) in Austin. One of her stories struck me more deeply than others. Probably for the sheer banality of it all.

Laurie worked in the food pantry on Friday, helping the residents “shop” for the week. She surmised that cereal the pantry had to offer must have been donated by HEB as near-expiration-overstock that no one wanted – one of those full of fiber (and it tastes like it) cereals. There was a little boy who accompanied his mother in line. When they asked for cereal, and he saw the one and only option, he started to cry to his mother, “I don’t want that kind. I want our regular kind. Why do we have to be here? I just want to go back with Dad.”

The emotional devastation of every woman in the room could be felt.

The littlest things that we take for granted can bring such simple joy for those who are so broken and vulnerable. Once she returned home, Laurie posted a simple request to her local friends on Facebook. In addition to cereal and pancake mix for kids, the Moms wanted popcorn and chips for movie night, and as an extra special treat, some Betty Crocker boxed cake or cookie mixes.

As my sister has made a commitment to volunteer with various organizations in the Austin area throughout the past few years, she has continually posted simple requests like these on her Facebook wall. She even tells her friends that she’ll go  to them to pick up the donated items.

Laurie’s simple, specific posts certainly help direct the “givers” generosity to meet the “recipients” basic needs/wants. But she also does a tremendous service to raising awareness of social issues and offering both a model and vehicle of charity to her 300+ Facebook friends, some of whom might never consider the multitude of difficulties a victim of domestic violence faces.

I don’t want that kind. I want our regular kind. Why do we have to be here? I just want to go back with Dad.

When Laurie told Mom this story, not surprisingly, Mom offered to finance a “treats” run to stock the pantry. But in reflection, Laurie asked an important question:

It’s great that Mom is buying them groceries this month, but what about next month?

And that’s the point in the phone call where I went all theologian on her.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:4-12)

Everything that Laurie is doing right now for SafePlace is important – from personally volunteering to telling stories to posting donation requests on Facebook. But she’s not in the financial position to stock the pantry.

That’s ok.  

There are many parts. We are all one body.

Without the time to shop or undergo training for volunteering, Mom donated money. That’s all she was in the position to do at the moment.

That’s ok.

There are many parts. We are all one body.

Laurie and I share the frugal, money-saving, coupon clipping gene. So I suggested she consider clipping those coupons for items she doesn’t personally use, follow the sales posted on our favorite savings blog Hip2Save, and snag deals on these items. I can help with this, I say. I can’t volunteer or donate money, but I’ll keep an eye out for deals and sales.

That’s ok.

There are many parts. We are all one body.

So we wrap up the phone call (as she arrived at her destination and my kids needed something like food or attention), and we each go about our day.

Six hours later, I walk in to Kroger and see that they are having a 3-day sale on limited varieties of GM cereals – cereals with a sugar content that I do not want to give my kids and would normally never buy. In the before-you-walk-in-the-store, where you grab your cart, there’s a display offering these cereals 2 for $3. And I have coupons. Of course. So each of the boys got to pick out a cereal for “families who are going through a difficult time.”  Four boxes of cereal cost me $3.75 out of pocket.  That I can do.

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Of course I called Laurie to tell her how yes, indeed, the Spirit is at work.  And in her usual joy, Laurie remarked: “This is amazing!”

Sometimes faith leads us to service.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. (Matthew 25:35-36).

And sometimes it is the experience of service that leads us to a deeper faith and spirituality.  It is that experience of service in which we are completely filled with love and joy.  It is that experience of service where we are overwhelmed by this “good feeling” and the only words we can muster is a humble recognition that we have received so much more than we gave.  THIS is the experience of divine agapic love (see here and here for further explanation on this).

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

When we accept the invitation of Christ to love others as he loved us, we are filled with the divine presence.

Thing that we need to remember when it comes to service — when it comes to a faith that does justice — is that (a) don’t think it all depends on you to do everything.  That’s what we call a Messiah complex.  And honestly, we already have one of those.  And (b) don’t think there’s only one way to help.  Do what you can.  Where you can.  When you can.

There are many parts. We are all one body.

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Take the Time to Do the Prep Work

I am a project person.  From brainstorming to execution to reveling in the completed product, I love projects, especially the home-improvement, crafty, organizational ones.  I think what I love most, however, is how much I have learned through doing projects.  I’m not talking about the technical stuff, either.  What I’m talking about is wisdom.

About four months ago, I decided to refinish some old, tired looking patio furniture from IKEA.

Originally purchased eight years ago, the set fit the necessary criteria: it had a TABLE and CHAIRS that we could AFFORD, and it was STURDY (at least sturdier than the plastic stuff).  Neither ugly nor attractive (nor comfortable), we never really enjoyed the set.  And after we got nicer stuff, it was pushed to the margins of the yard, somewhat functional, but hardly used.

Refinishing the set was going to be a four-step process:

  1. Clean and Sand the Wood
  2. Prime with an oil-based paint
  3. Decoratively paint
  4. Finish with polyurethane

In all honesty, I don’t necessarily enjoy every part of every step in any given project.  Specifically, I neither enjoy cleaning years of caked on dirt and spider webs nor do I like sanding.  But if there’s one thing you cannot skip it’s the prep-work.

Taking the time to do the prep work always pays off in the long run.

In the case of this project, I begrudgingly admitted to my insistent husband that yes, I wanted to avoid frustration when it came time to paint the chairs, and yes, I wanted my efforts to be long-lasting, so yes, I would take the time to clean and sand the wood.  Yes, I would properly prime everything with the smelly, difficult-to-clean oil based paint.

In reality, “taking the time to do the prep work” applies to practically every aspect of our lives.  Take the “PIES” model of self-examination: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual.

  • Physically, when we don’t properly warm up or train, slowly building up to the goal, we are more prone to hurt ourselves.
  • Intellectually, when we don’t do the necessary reading or studying in preparation for a class or a meeting, the parties involved experience the frustration of wasted time, and the failure to perform can have ever-widening implications on our jobs, our reputation with others, and even in our personal integrity.
  • Emotionally, taking the time to do the prep work can impact our ability to truly be in the present moment.  Sometimes this is about coming to terms with where we are in the process of “change.” Other times, this is about working through “differences.”  Acknowledging and attending to emotions helps us to be more present to one another in the situation at hand, rather than being fixated on the past or the future.
  • Spiritually, taking the time to do the prep work is about cultivating ourselves as people of justice.  Spiritual prep work is about developing the moral character to be good people who do the right thing.  It’s about becoming a person who means it when they pray, “Thy will be done.”  It’s about setting aside the time to be with God in prayer while reflecting on life.  It’s about aligning our whole selves with the folks to whom Jesus says, “Come, inherit the kingdom…For I was hungry and you gave me food.” (Matthew 25:34-35).
When we take the time to do the prep work, the finished product doesn’t just look awesome.  It is awesome.  Through and through.

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In what areas of your life do you take the time to do the prep work?  In what areas do you need to be more attentive?  How have you noticed the difference prep work makes in your own life?

Just Do One Thing

Just Do One Thing

 On any given to-do list, there are the pressing errands and whatnot that need urgent attention and then there are the projects – small and large – that tend to get back-burnered due to time constraints.

A little while ago, my group of Mom-friends decided they were going to do Project 365, taking a photo every day for a year.  Most of them planned on scrapbooking (digitally or on paper), and documenting a year of daily life in their families.  While I loved the idea, my project list was waaaaay too long, and I was pretty happy with the ease of sharing photos and posts on Facebook for all of my long distance family.

Instead, I proposed my own version: doing a project a day for a year.  I figured if I could just do one thing from my project list every day, it’d really help me out.

I had no idea the profound impact that this practice would have on my life.

I started listing out all those back-burnered things – in no particular order.  At the time I was struggling with depression and an intense set of work deadlines.  Both motivation and time were lacking in major ways.  But moreover, I started to feel mocked by my to-do list.  And there was no way I was going to let a list win.  So I began my 365 Projects.

Just. Do. One. Thing

Some days I would just have 5 or 10 minutes in between work, house, and motherhood responsibilities.  Other times, like on weekends, I’d take a little longer.  I found that if a task required multiple steps – like first acquiring the supplies and then actually patching the holes in the knees of my boys’ jeans – I’d count that as two things, especially since I’d have to do each step on a different day.

Within a remarkably short period of time (maybe six weeks), I had accomplished all of the nagging tasks on my list.  By just doing one thing each day, I eliminated the feeling of being overwhelmed.  I became proactive.  I was, once again, making a difference the organization and function of my home; I was making a difference in my life.

But that wasn’t even the best part.  The BEST part was what happened in my attitude.

Completing each of these projects brought me a little joy.  Every time I would use a space or a “thing” that had been part of one of my 365 Projects, I’d smile.  Embracing that joy transformed my attitude.  Now, when I encounter something that frustrates me, instead of being overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list tasks (which will always be there), I get excited about the possibilities and begin brainstorming a solution.

My friend and mentor, Tom Groome offers a reflection on John the Baptist which resonates deeply with people in ministry (and for what it’s worth, I consider motherhood a ministry).  Tom praises John’s wisdom for knowing that he is not the Messiah.  I remember Tom inviting us to speak those words aloud: I am not the MessiahI am not the MessiahI am not the Messiah.

So often – in both our personal and professional lives – we feel like we have to do it all, so overwhelmed by everything before us that we can’t figure out where to begin.

Whether it’s your home, your relationships, your kids, your friends, your work, or the social injustices plaguing our world, it’s a good idea to remind yourself:

I am not the Messiah.

We have one of those.  It’s not all up to you; that’s what God is for.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that the answer is to do nothing.

When looking at the social injustices in the world, it’s not uncommon to hear people (mis)quote Jesus, “The Poor will always be with us” (Matthew 26:1).

Dorothy Day responds to this beautifully:  “Yes, the poor are always going to be with us—Our Lord told us that—and there will always be a need for our sharing…It will always be a lifetime job.  But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor…we must do what we can to change it” (“Works of Mercy.” Dorothy Day Selected Writings. Ed Robert Ellsberg. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996, 111).

“What we would like to do is change the world…We can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.  We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world….[T]here is nothing we can do but love, and dear God—please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend” (Ibid, 98).

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