People with Rabies

rabies

This guy has Rabies.

A homeless guy called me “cool” today. He said and I quote, “Only cool people appreciate the name of my dog.” His dog’s name is Rabies. He knew how much I appreciated the name by my reaction. I LOVE creativity and a bit of dark humor. And this pup is aptly  named.

Just one day after watching A Dog’s Purpose at the movie theater (spoiler alert: bring Kleenex), today I saw another dog with a purpose. A dog named Rabies loving his master. A master who many people treat like he has rabies, though neither of them do.

I love his sign, too. I think it is a sign we all should carry. Everyday.

Because isn’t that what we are…really? Ugly and broke. We are all imperfect. Yes, we may wash our hair and put on clean clothes in the morning, but let’s face it. His sign is our sign, too.

And aren’t we ALL traveling folks? We journey through this world looking for our next opportunity–whether it be a better job, a happiness fix, a loyal friend, or our next meal. We travel. We journey. We wander. And every now and then, if we are wise, we slow down enough to share in the joy of the struggle and break bread with other ugly, broken people along the way. Cool.

Choosing to Give. Choosing to Receive.

kickball

Kickin’ it with kids. What choice do I have?

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”– Albus Dumbledore

Dumbledore is a man of few, but profound words. October means it is time for my Harry Potter marathon—a Potter movie (or two) every weekend until Halloween. I just finished watching The Chamber of Secrets and the headmaster’s words quoted above have been sticking with me.

His words echoed in my head this weekend as I spent some time playing kickball with homeless kids. As I started my work week, I carried with me the smiles on their faces, the high fives, the laughter, and the excitement from the game. A simple game played in a parking lot with hula hoops for bases.

The kids and their families chose to embrace the moment. To enjoy the company of strangers. To pray for their blessings. To play and have fun regardless of their abilities or their situations. I have nothing but admiration for those kids. They are making the best of their situation—living in cubical bedrooms with tarps for walls. Sleeping on cots. Yet choosing to enjoy life whenever life gives them enjoyable things—not dwelling on what they don’t have, but what they do.

Spending my free time serving others may have some labeling me a “do gooder” trying to earn some Earthly praise or cosmic medal or maybe even work my way to heaven. Not at all.  I do hope I’m helping, but the reality is what I receive often outweighs what I give. The giving and receiving are practically indistinguishable.  The two together make something beautiful, healing, and the closest thing to heaven I have ever experienced—whether I’m giving or receiving. I can hardly ever tell which is which.

This world is a broken mess. We can’t make it whole again. But we can fill the cracks with mortar. Still broken, but patched together–the giver and the receiver—one in the same. We can choose to be together and find joy despite the flaws.

Thanks for the game kids!

It’s our choices that show us who we really are. Indeed.

My “Free” T-Shirt Has Cost Me Plenty! I’m So Glad.

tshirt

The most wonderfully expensive “free” t-shirt I’ve ever owned.

It happened again. This “free” t-shirt has cost me. Though I shouldn’t be surprised because I practically live in this incredibly soft, cotton-blend shirt.  It is the most comfortable t-shirt I’ve ever owned. It also just happens to say “Live Generously.”

Today, I was driving to get some lunch and pick up a few groceries. Standing on a busy curb by the store entrance was a man, his pregnant wife, and a stroller with a sleeping toddler inside. Something inside me stirred and I stopped and parked in a lonely lot where I could observe what they were doing. They held up a sign that I could not read. I watched as car after car drove past them—but not because people didn’t necessarily care—the way traffic was flowing it was pretty hit or miss whether a car would actually be able to stop long enough to roll down the window and hand them some change.

As I sat in my truck, my heart broke and I looked down. Sure enough, I was wearing my stinky well-worn “Live Generously” t-shirt. I hopped out of the Cranberry Crush and dodged traffic to go meet them.  I introduced myself and found out that they had traveled from California in search of a job. Their names were Julietta and Viorel. They were from Romania originally and were now living in Denver. He tried to answer all of my questions with broken English. He was a mechanic by trade and was having a hard time finding work because his English was not very good. Their smiles, however, spoke volumes.

I asked them what I could do that would be most helpful to them. My mind flashed back to times when I needed help and I remembered that having people ask me what I needed was so wonderful because I could tell them specifically rather than them deciding what I needed based on their perception of my situation or their own judgements. Not too surprisingly, they told me they were in need of groceries and cash to help with rent.

I ran to the grocery store to grab a gift card and some cash. What does “Live Generously” mean, I thought, as I stood at the checkout. $10? $20?  No. I decided today generous meant giving up what I would have spent on groceries.

I sprinted back the curb with my cash and gift card in hand. I gave $40 to Julietta and said, “for rent” and I handed Viorel a $100 gift card and said, “for groceries.” Tears started to well up in their eyes. It was like they had won the lottery. They beamed and we shook hands. I asked again. What else can I do? The language barrier was too much and we both recognized that nothing more could be done today. But today was a good day.

As I ran to my truck and got in, I saw them leave their post and head to their vehicle with a new spring in their step. We smiled and waved at each other. I can only hope we meet again.

I am so grateful for every day I can live generously. And, equally grateful for every day others have lived generously for me. I hope this t-shirt never wears out.

First World Problems? No, Just Problems.

thirdworld

My friend, Franklin, in Bolivia cut his arm. Third world problem? First world problem? Or just a problem?

In the last week, I’ve heard the phrase “first world problem” about a dozen times. For some reason, the more I heard it mentioned, the more it bothered me.  I couldn’t put my finger on what was annoying me about it. Until now.

I think the phrase started out as a way to lampoon bratty rich people.“You know, like, I can’t decide if I should get red leather or black leather in my BMW. I worried about it all night. What will I do?” But lately, I think it has grown to include almost anything people think you shouldn’t complain about or that you need to put “in perspective.” The trouble is sometimes your problems are actually real problems and the phrase just shames you into feeling bad for simply feeling.

I think the other problem I have with the phrase is that our world has changed. The idea of a first, second, and third world was a product of the Cold War. First world described countries that were allied with the United States and had market-based economies. The second world described Eastern bloc, or communist countries. And the third world was a term used to describe pretty much everyone else (much of Africa and Latin America). After the Cold War and the revolutions in the late 80s, the second world started to disappear, but the terms first world and third world stuck. The words became a way to describe “rich” countries and “poor” countries. And therein lies my problem with the phrase.

There are people here in the United States facing poverty – 47 million to be exact (2014).  They wouldn’t call going to bed hungry a “first world problem.” And there are likely millions of people in, say, Guatemala, whining from time to time about something stupid. And, of course, vice versa.

Here’s the truth. Everyone in the world has both kinds of problems – real problems  and “problems” we sometimes whine about (but probably shouldn’t).

So, next time your car runs out of gas on the highway, your classmates call you names, you need a root canal, you are unfairly passed over for a promotion, you lose your lunch money, or you get sick on vacation…and someone flippantly tells you it is a “first world problem,” you don’t need to stop feeling bad.  True, those things aren’t the end of the world and on the problem spectrum they aren’t severe, but you are allowed to feel no matter where you live.

Franklin (pictured above), I hope your cut arm doesn’t prevent you from playing soccer with your friends AND I hope your family gets the nutrition they need today to stay healthy.

Salvation Army Census Psychology

salvation army

I’m not Captain McFee, but I sure am happy to carry on his tradition.

In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was distraught because so many poor people in San Francisco were going hungry. He resolved to to feed 1,000 hungry people on Christmas day, but he needed to find the funds. He remembered his days as a sailor in England and how at Stage Landing there was a large, iron kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” where people would put in coins to help the poor. The captain put a kettle out the next day with a sign that read “Keep the Pot Boiling” and  he soon collected enough money to reach his goal of providing Christmas dinner. His idea spread and now years later we find red  Salvation Army kettles in front of stores everywhere holding money to assist people in their local communities who are struggling to find enough money for food, prescriptions, and rent. Wow. So simple, but so powerful.

Every year in December I take one or two afternoons from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., step away from my office, and stand in front of my local grocery store by the infamous red kettle.  I find it to be an amazing way to press the pause button on my crazy schedule. It gives me a chance to interact with people and find the joy of the season in the eyes of each person I greet.

Two hours standing in the same spot gives you a lot of time to think, and if you are like me, it also gives you a lot of time to categorize everything you see.  Yes, I am a Type A. The list maker.  A “J” on the Myers Briggs test. That strange kid who lined up her stuffed animal collection in taxonomic order.

So, while ringing the bell this year, I sorted. And I decided there are really eight kinds of Salvation Army kettle givers. Here is my assessment:

  1. Loose Changers: These are the people whom you make eye contact with when they are crossing the street and they quickly start digging in their pockets. They drop their change in the bucket. Eye contact does amazing things. Cool, thanks!
  2. Crisp Ones: These are folks, usually over 65, who purposely go to the bank and get crisp dollar bills to put in every Salvation Army bucket they visit during the season. Wow. Thank you planners!
  3. Sweet Toothers: These are the opportunistic children who tug on their parents’ coats and ask to put money in the bucket (knowing full well there are candy canes in my red apron for them). Fun! Thanks!
  4. Giving Teachers: This type of giver is usually female with one kid sitting in front of her cart and the other in tow. She digs through her purse while holding onto the cart with one foot. Patiently she waits as her children put each coin in the bucket one by one. A candy cane is given, much to her surprise (and occasionally chagrin). She instructs, “Tell her thank you.” No, thank you!
  5. Catch Ya Laters: These are the folks who greet you with a smile and say, “I’ll see you on my way out.” At first you think it is just a sneaky avoidance move. But it is not. They actually return. Way to go! Thanks!
  6. Justifiers: These people can’t stand it. They have to come up and talk to you and tell you why they aren’t putting anything in the kettle. “I gave all my change to the guy yesterday.” Or, “I rang the bell here last week.” Or, “I will get some cash and put some in tomorrow.” Thanks for caring and stopping to chat!
  7. Big Buck Inspirations: These people are surprisingly all ages and genders and you never know when one will show up. But when they do, you marvel. They reach in their pockets or open their wallets and pull out large bills: 10s, 20s…I’ve even seen Ben Franklin. Thanks for trusting!
  8. Grateful Receivers: Last but not least, these are some of my favorite givers. These are people who have received help from the Salvation Army before. They give back what they can and tell me their stories. THANK YOU!

One thing I’ve noticed about all the types of givers is that they return the thanks. They are grateful for the time you spend outside ringing the bell, which makes me realize there is one final type of giver I’ve forgotten–Bell Ringers. I guess if we didn’t stand by Captain McFee’s kettle then there wouldn’t be a place to put any money. It takes all kinds of givers.  Each one special. And I wouldn’t miss this part of Christmas for anything!

 

Red Shoes

My son's red racing flats.

My son’s red racing flats

When I went shopping with my son  for his first pair of racing flats for cross country, he looked over the choices and zeroed in on a bright red pair. Like a good mom, I made him try them on and smashed my finger by the toes to see if there was room to grow. I asked him if they were comfortable.  His answer didn’t convince me that they were a good fit.  But, there was no changing his mind.  He was sure this was the pair.  When asked what he liked about them he said, “These shoes say: I’m here and I can do something!” I couldn’t argue with that. Four years of cross country later, he proved that statement true.  When he put on those shoes, he could do something.

A couple years later that experience was repeated in a most unexpected place. I was in Guatemala traveling with a friend and helping support her work with Starfish — whose mission is to unlock and maximize the potential of young women in Guatemala. One afternoon after we finished our teaching duties, my friend and I headed to the outdoor market. I had brought just a little bit of extra cash to Guatemala, figuring I would bring something back for my sons. As we walked through the square we were greeted by two boys, about 8 or 9 years old. They asked if we wanted to see the statue of Maximon (pronounced Mashimon), a local mixture of a Catholic saint and a Mayan deity.  We inferred they wanted payment for the favor. After speaking to them in Spanish and asking for their names and ages, we inquired what they wanted to do with the money. The boys said they needed shoes. Looking down at their feet, the fact was verified.  We walked with the boys to the market and asked them to show us where to find shoes. In the market there was a table with rows of shoes lined up under an open air canopy. No marked sizes—just rows of shoes. I started perusing the shoes for comfort and utility, but the kids zeroed in on one style in particular–they were bright red. We searched around to find the shoes in their sizes and like typical moms with sons, we made them stand while we pressed our thumbs on the toes to see if they had room to grow. I pulled my little bit of souvenir money out of my pocket and helped pay for the shoes. We laced them up, shook the boys’ hands, and said farewell.  I’m pretty sure it was the best “souvenir” I’ve ever bought.

It has been a couple of years now, and I’m sure those shoes have been well used and outgrown. But my prayer is that the boys found a way to move forward, to continue to help their families, and have found some relief from poverty. I hope that it was more than just a few fleeting moments that they ran through the streets — their feet silently screaming to the people of Panajachel, “Look at me! I’m here and I can do something!”

red-shoes-kids

Red shoes. The best souvenir I ever bought.

Are You Thirsty Yet?

Seattle

My journey took me here…but really someplace else altogether.

There is nothing like business travel to make you soul search…especially when you travel by yourself for several weeks in a row. This time I was in Seattle. After work I watched a fist fight ensue out the window of my downtown government per diem hotel, but I decided I needed to suck it up and get outside. My challenge – find the Space Needle then the fish market then loop around the aquarium and locate my hotel again all while avoiding the fist fighters.  My walk started out quite successfully. I made it all the way to the Space Needle. Then I found the monorail and decided to be a tourist and hop aboard. While standing in line, a man shouted sarcastically, “What’s so great about this?” The crowd averted their eyes. After an extremely short ride we all disembarked. The man continued making snide remarks as we marched down the stairs. He was walking right in front of me and we traveled the same direction toward the fish market. He started harassing a woman talking on her cell phone in front of him. He repeated words from her conversation, “Yes, tell me how that relationship is going? We ALL want to hear!” His boldness was painful. I don’t remember how, but we all scattered to get away. It made me wonder…was he mentally ill? Was he angry? Why didn’t anyone tell him to stop? Why didn’t I?

The next leg of my journey led me through the fish market and down the steps to the water. I passed by a man who looked like he could have been Bob Marley’s long lost brother. He was selling bottles of water for $1 out of a cooler to the sweaty tourists. ARE YOU THIRSTY YET? That’s what his sign said. I stopped and told him I wasn’t thirsty yet, but I was planning on being thirsty eventually. He smiled and I continued on.

As I made my way toward the aquarium I walked past a young woman holding a piece of cardboard that said “Need help with rent, diapers, and food. Two kids.” Next to her, a stroller. Inside, a baby. I watched as all eyes avoided her and conversations between friends, parents, and children picked up nervously when they noticed her, as to mean, “we are talking so we can’t see you.”  As I power walked by her, we made eye contact, and my heart broke.  I looked down and was struck hard by the message written boldly on my favorite workout shirt — “Live Generously.” I couldn’t get her out of my head. I had $11 in my pocket and I knew what I needed to do. The crazy, mean guy from the train taught me a lesson. If he can be bold enough to harass people, then I can be bold enough to bless them.

I did my lap around the aquarium and started back the way I came. I found the woman and stopped. I introduced myself and asked her about her life. What brought her to this point? How was she seeking help? What worried her most? She introduced me to her baby, Jude (she called him Judicans Cuticans). She tried not to smile, though it was hard for her not to when looking at her adorable sleeping baby. Her teeth were yellow and she was missing a front tooth from a vitamin deficiency during pregnancy. Her teeth made her feel self-conscious and she shared with me how this problem made her nervous during job interviews. Affording dental work was not a possibility. After about an hour of chatting, I reached in my pocket and gave her my $10 bill and asked if there was any other way I could help. She shook her head. I hugged her, told her she would be in my prayers, and continued on. I had $1 left and I knew just where I was going next. I was thirsty.