Wake up in the morning and open your eyes wide. See the beauty in the world, smile and give thanks. See the ugly in the world, weep; then refuse to let it win. Do this and a life will be lived.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brother, can you spare a dime?

I am perplexed by mankind’s burning desire to conquer and possess. In the modern world, we relentlessly pursue financial and material gain, forging ahead with no real insight into the future. We run in circles chasing paper. Family and friends are left in the dust as shiny cars and fancy things become an ever increasing priority. We shut out the impoverished, labeling low income citizens lazy or worse yet, diminishing their value with Darwin’s soulless survival of the fittest rule.
How did this happen? Is materialism a sign of the times, a symptom of spiritual withdraw? Can consumerism and ethics coexist? Can we want more without wanting too much, and if that is the case, who defines what is too much?
I do not consider myself a materialistic person. I don’t live or die by trends in manufactured goods. I consistently put my loved ones before things and dollar signs. Still, who am I to judge corporate millioniares? They turn a blind eye, but ultimately, so do I. I delight in owning multiple handbags while children go without a good pair of shoes. I sleep in a king sized bed; knowing full well homeless shelters are overpacked. I go out to eat, finish half my plate and let the rest be thrown away. I own more shirts than I can wear in a week. I do all of this knowing it fulfills a want, not a need. Does that make me materialistic?
If I'm materialistic, every middle class American born post industrial revolution is materialistic. We are all guilty of want. However much we volunteer, however much we donate to charity, we are still living way beyond our needs. Does that make us fundamentally wrong?
In recent years, some have chosen to turn their backs completely on industry and capitalism, certain living in candlelight and wearing hemp pants will save the world. I understand the sentiment but I don't agree with the position. If we take such a drastic approach, we lose sight of the good side of progress. It's like saying we are all better off living off the land; then dying at twenty-five without ever having read a book. It's nice in theory but do we really want to go back there?
Industry changed the world by making the impossible possible. New technologies paved roads to important feats in human history. Where would modern medicine be without technology? Scientific discoveries, space exploration, travel, all of these things were made possible by industry. Industry made it possible to communicate across the world. Consequently, we have a greater understanding of the human condition, which is what leads us to question ourselves in the first place.
Then, there's capitalism. Capitalism is a free economic system. It proclaims everyone free to work hard, to create their own wealth, to buy and to sell. The system is in itself idealistic. It was intended to make things better.
The system isn't the problem. Industry isn't the problem. Technological advances aren't the problem.
So, what is the problem? Why are people obsessed with bank accounts and possessions? Well, I can't officially answer, but I certainly have an opinion.
The problem is treating capitalism like a religion. Material things were not meant to and can not fulfill the human spirit. When people attempt to ease their aching soul with cash, they never succeed. So, they keep trying. They always want more. The more they want, the more they are willing to do to get it. The cycle creates pain and poverty, where growth and progress should be.
Modern life isn't perfect and will never be Utopian. Life on earth is poetically flawed. Bad comes with the good. We can only do our best to embrace progress and still maintain our values.
The most important thing is that we start from the heart. If God is at the center of our hearts, we will not be overwhelmed by greed. We will instead devote our energies to balancing human progress and spiritual health. We will no longer pave gold roads to nowhere. We will pave sturdy roads to a brighter future.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Circumstances Don't Make the Man

The stories keep making the news. Citizens everywhere are fighting to keep homeless camps out of suburban neighborhoods. Outraged homeowners claim it is a safety issue. They are quick to pass judgment. After all, isn't the ultimate goal to protect and preserve the pretty picture?
I certainly hope not.
As a volunteer and a journalist, I’ve spent time with men and women living on the streets. They are just people. Some are kind. Some are distant. Others are down right mean. Some fight illnesses. Some fight inner demons. Others fight to keep a positive attitude. Some are married. Some have children. Others wander the streets alone. Similar circumstances loop the homeless into one big group but ulimately, the group is made up of individuals.
A roof doesn’t define an individual person’s character. It's true, some homeless turn to crime. So do people living in multimillion dollar estates. Statistically, homeless people committ less violent crimes than housed people, does that mean we should hide from our neighbors?
I understand being concerned. It's important to look out for the safety of your family. Still, is that the real issue? Are people fighting to keep commmunities safe or are they fighting for something superficial? Aren't people more important than preserving the image of shutters and well manicured lawns?

Here is a short story I wrote on the topic:

I smell her before I see her. She stands behind me, a confused look on her wrinkled face. No one says a word.
She doesn’t seem to notice the disgust in their eyes. I’m not sure she understands. I’m not sure she knows how badly they want her to disappear.
We’re all in line at the department store, holding various items destined for the back of overstocked closets. We smell like perfume and laundry detergent. We wear stylish pressed clothes. We take pride in our pretty hair and pretty smiles. Not her.
She wears a torn white t-shirt and urine soaked sweat pants. She’s not in line or out of line. She just stands there, floating between us. Her graying brown hair is knotted and filthy. From the deep frown lines, the thin cracked lips and the bags under her eyes, I’d guess she’s fifty.
She mumbles to herself.
The unnaturally blonde woman behind her looks at me, making that “Oh My God Can You Believe it Face.” Or maybe it’s “Oh My Gosh,” because she wouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain. She’s to pretty, to clean, to rich.
I wait for someone to come. Surely, someone will come. They’ll ask the confused woman what she needs. They’ll help her. There’s a homeless shelter downtown and a hospital just ten miles down the road.
Still, no one comes.
We all try to focus on other things, like the televisions playing music videos overhead. In the meantime, we get lucky. When we’re not looking, the woman leaves the store.
Now it’s my turn to pay. I step up to the register. The cashier looks relieved, removing my purchase’s security tags with a pleasant smile. Still, the smell lingers.
I pull out some plastic and pay for my new shirt. It’s pink with little yellow flowers. I found it on the sale rack. Only 19.99.
I sign my name, take the bag and say thank you.
As I walk away, I hear the woman next in line whisper to the cashier. “Did you see that?” “What was that woman doing?’ “It’s so sad.”
I stop at the bathroom to wash my hands and check my lipstick. I’m meeting a friend for lunch. I toss a wad of paper towels into the trashcan and head out, refreshed.
In the parking lot, I try not to see her. I look down at the pavement until I reach my four-door sanctuary. I pretend she isn’t there, wandering alone. I pretend it doesn’t look like it might rain.
I know what I’m about to do.
I take one last look at the woman and I turn the ignition. Then, I deliberately look away. I turn on the radio and tune it to a pop song.
I make a right out of the parking lot, just as it starts to rain.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Sun Will Come Out

The world turns and so the sun sets. Soon tomorrow will come out of the darkness. Light will shine on a new day. Then, tomorrow will come and go.
So, find someone to love, treat them well and keep them close. Find a flower in a park, pluck it from the earth and put it in your pocket. Hear a friend in need, scratch your day plans and humbly answer their call. Buy a cookie, break it in half and eat it slowly. Find time, put it aside and use it wisely.
Hug your relatives, compliment your enemies and laugh at yourself. Try a new recipe, take a different road and pick up someone else's trash. Witness a miracle, take a picture and keep it quiet.
Do something people think you can’t do. Work hard; then play without remorse. Do jumping jacks in public. Dance in public. Be nice in public. Better yet, be nice in general.
Don't criticize or belittle your loved ones. Don't cuss at food workers or honk your car horn. Don't be too hard on yourself, take a deep breath and don't rush.
Tomorrow will come and go. The world will turn. The calendar on your wall will find its way into the trash. All the while, life will keep you distracted. You'll look back and ask, where did the time go?
So, find someone to love, treat them well and keep them close.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Learning Something New

I used to think I was smart. Then, I learned something new. However much I read and study, I will go through my life knowing very little.
Intelligence is measured by tests whereas knowledge comes from a willingness to open our minds. That being said, experience is the greatest teacher. No one knows more about Niagra Falls than the man who went over it in a barrel. A farm girl in Iowa will probably never ride a camel. A dancer in New York will not know the pain of loosing her legs in the war.
Since we can’t experience everything, reason requires us to listen to the thoughts and opinions of others. This brings us back to the need for relationships. Without relationships, we can not create a civil world, or even maintain healthy communities. Without relationships, the most intelligent man in the world knows nothing but himself. He is essentially clueless.
I know I have a lot to learn. We all do. We always will. We have a lot to learn from each other.
Man's quest to understand the world using only facts and figures, will only prove in vain. Without communication and compassion, the path to knowledge is crooked and broken.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stand in the Rain

A solitary rain drop hits my windshield and I assume it’s going to pour. I peer out at the sky, searching for dark foreboding clouds. I listen for tale telling thunder. Another drop falls and I’m convinced high winds are eminent. I speed home to beat the storm.
I rush inside, expecting the earth to erupt on cue. I check the flashlights for batteries and I wait; but the storm never comes. The light rain fades. The sun peeks out through the clouds. Children ride their bikes in the street. Standing at my window, I feel strangely cheated. I rearranged my day for nothing.
If we’re not careful, we can spend our lives preparing for the storm. Its common knowledge, no one goes through life smooth sailing. Rough waters come and go. So, we prepare for disaster. We spend sleepless nights trying to outsmart the unknown. We plan what we should or would do if…(insert your fear here).
I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. I don’t know why the ocean meets the sky to form hurricanes. I do know it’s impossible to predict the weather, just count how many times the smiling meteorologists are dead wrong.
We aren’t meant to know the outcome of every situation. We are meant to trust God and follow his path. We aren't meant to live life afraid and preoccupied by what might be. We are meant to shine and take each moment as it comes.
Personally, I’ve held back when I should have jumped in with both feet. I’ve hid behind the curtains, when I should have stood proud in the spotlight. One two many times, I’ve let fear send me racing home to safety. I've trembled at the sight of a rain drop, without ever even facing the storm.
On its own, fear is powerless. We give it power when we let worry consume our thoughts, when we hit a bump in the road and give up. Fear has no real place in our hearts. If we rest in God’s love, we are safe, now and always, through every battle.
I hate to drive in the rain, but I'm learning to walk out my front door, get in the car and forge ahead, even when the sky is rumbling.

Friday, October 9, 2009

As an American Woman

There are places where women are beaten for learning to read, where men go to prison for proclaiming belief in God and children carry machine guns. There are places where no matter how hard you work, you are considered less than someone else, where education is for the select few and; daily limits accompany daily life. Do you live in one of these places?
God gave mankind free will but many live to impose restrictions on others. Innocent people throughout the world have had their freedoms taken away by corrupt and barbaric systems. Have you had your freedoms taken away?
As an American woman, I am free. I am free to learn; to choose my own religion and to work hard. As an American woman, I am not told what to say, who to marry, how many children to have or where to go during my day. If I want to, I can run through the front yard sprinklers in my bathing suit. I can dance wildly in public and talk about politics. I can shout when I am angry and stand strong beside a man.
As an American woman, I am used to the good life. Freedom is the norm and so I forget. Then I see the news or read a book about the third world. I remember how fortunate I am to live in a this country. Without choices, mankind can not exercise free will and as American citizens, we have choices.
We can stand up for what we believe and challenge others when we disagree. We can create wealth and destroy it, we can worship God and debate His existence, we can go to school and read whatever books we choose. Life is open for discussion.
Remember, there are places where the economy and foriegn policy aren't up for debate. There are places where children are sold into slavery by their own families and poverty is a life sentence. Whatever I face, I am fortunate to be an American woman.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Perfectly Flawed

I am not today nor will I ever be perfect. I am just a girl, born to learn from her mistakes, to grow and change, to dream and stumble. What I think today I might not think tomorrow.
Some days I will wake up and dance with joy. Some days my heart will ache and I will take refuge in God’s love. What matters is whether or not I give up.
Sometimes, the people I meet will like me. Sometimes, the people I meet will not. What matters is whether or not I treat them all with kindness.
Some days I will shine. Some days I will experience success. What matters is whether or not I’m willing to fail.
Today I want to pay attention to the little things, to remember to say grace before my meals and compliment the ones I love. Today I want to laugh at my inadequacies and continue striving toward my goals. I want to taste something sweet and see something lovely. I want to reach beyond a limit I’ve set for myself. I want to think of others, to listen more and talk less. I want to look up at the sunshine and later at the sparkling stars. I want to sit still and silent, without the television or the noise of the world to interfere. I want to breathe in deep and say a simple prayer.
I am not today nor will I ever be perfect. I am just a girl, created by an awesome God to share in the human experience. Today, I will put my pride aside and remember; we will all make mistakes. What matters is whether or not we are willing to try again.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Love Is

I am still learning what love is.
As children, we daydream of fairy tale romance, of princes on horseback and beautiful maidens. We giggle when we experience our first crush and cry dramatically if our affections aren’t returned. We spend years anticipating a first kiss; then fumble awkwardly when our lips meet a stranger’s. Without even realizing it, we begin a lifelong search for the meaning of love.
I haven’t read a single book on relationships. I have no idea what love is supposed to be. I do know real love comes when you are willing. Real love has nothing to do with superfluous chocolates or wilting flowers. Real love is committing wholly to another person, its diving in without a lifejacket and if need be, splashing around like crazy.
Real love is being willing to know a person inside out, to appreciate their flaws and idiosyncrasies, to dance through the ups and the downs. Real love is being there when you’d rather be somewhere else. It’s laughter, comfortable silences and kisses when you haven’t brushed your teeth. It’s melting into the other person; then letting go when they need time or space. It’s telling it like it is; and being willing to listen. It's romancing one another with just a smile.
Love is passionate and gentle, truthful and kind.
Love is a choice
Love is a gift.
Love is a mystery.
Let go and let love.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

She Will Not Be Moved

Believing means trusting in something you can not prove with the scientific method. It isn’t always easy. There are times when our beliefs get lost in the struggle, when distractions come our way and faith sits patiently by. Then, there are times when belief is all we have.
In 2005, I met a woman named Mattie Jackson. Mattie taught me what it is to believe. Against all odds, she wakes up each morning, lifts her hands in praise and smiles.
Mattie is a mother of three daughters, Erika, Tanza and Taneya. Mattie's love for her children runs deep but there is something very different about her story. Mattie doesn’t get to share holidays with her girls, take them shopping or even see them smile. All three women died of different illnesses before their mother’s sixtieth birthday.
Most can’t imagine surviving the loss of a child. Mattie was no different but when faced with the impossible, she refused to give up on faith. As a young woman, she had made a decision to believe. She had invited Jesus into her heart and given her burdens to His grace. From then on, she couldn’t be moved.
Mattie not only survives, she lives each day to the fullest. She isn't afraid of tomorrow. Whatever life throws at her, she continues to laugh, to dance and to dream. She focuses on her grandchildren and hope for the future. She is there for everyone in her family and in her community. She is a mother to strangers and though she cries, she never complains. She knows her girls are with the Lord.
“I can’t question it. Their time was not in my hands. It was in God’s hands,” she said to me.
When faced with doubt, she goes to a quiet place and opens her Bible.
“I read the book of Job. Everything was taken from him but he persevered. He knew the Lord would deliver him. That is how I feel.”
Whenever I feel like giving up, I think of Mattie and I wonder if I am capable of such faith. In today's world, there are so many questions. I often catch myself focusing on all the wrong things. I try so hard to hold onto the ins and outs of life, I forget the most important thing of all. No matter the circumstances, He is as He always was, He will not be moved. As long as we believe, we will not be moved.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Life Seems Short

Life moves neither slow nor fast. The rate at which time passes depends wholly on an individual’s perception. To a child, the winter months seem to drag on and on. To a parent, they go by to fast. The realization life is short comes to us as grown ups, instantly provoking a desire to make the minutes last longer. The more we try, the faster time seems to go.
There’s a moment right after I wake up in the morning when life stands deceivingly and apparently still. I lie in bed with my eyes half open, adjusting to the sunlight, and nothing is really happening. I’m not thinking about the future or the past. I am content and peaceful in the space between.
I wonder; if a person were to treat every moment as the space between, would time still seem like an adversary? To live fully in the present, a person would have to let go of obsessions about yesterday and tomorrow. Is it even possible?
People were designed to remember and to think ahead, to make choices based on the potential outcome. Our past and our aspirations are an important part of who we are. Just the same, they shouldn’t overshadow the here and now. How we live in the here and now is, after all, how we create our memories.
Life seems short but the value of what we are experiencing this very moment will never be contigent upon time. Time moves forward and backward. The here and now is something more. It is a gift. I believe we are meant to relax in it, to enjoy it and when possible, to use it wisely.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Faith Isn't a Feeling

I’ve come to realize there is a river, deep and violent with the current flowing downstream. You can ride it or sink into the place where time ceases to exist. It is a choice. I don’t know why were given the choice but I know the right one. To live is to accept the challenge of surviving defeat, to overcome the distance between panic and serenity. To live is to believe there is something greater than yourself, that the answers are His, not your own.
There are no lucky ones. We all are blessed with the gift of life and we all carry burdens along the journey. It is our responsibility to act with courage and give those burdens to the grace of God. No one escapes trials, but some do allow trials to weaken the spirit. True courage is refusing to let go, no matter if your hands are bleeding.
The smartest people in the world aren’t the scientists and the billionaires. The smartest people are those who dedicate their lives to love. We were created to be in relationship with one another, with relatives, with friends, with spouses and with neighbors. We were designed to be in a relationship with God.
Faith isn’t a feeling. It isn’t contingent upon life being easy. Faith is coming face to face with an angry river and, rather than looking for a way around it, choosing to stay on course. Faith is a choice. I don’t know why were given the choice but I know the right one.
Be willing to seek out the light in the dark.