My America. Yours Too?

28 09 2017

Let me start by saying that this is not a political post–I won’t be taking sides. I respect the opinions of other people. We live in a free country where equality is celebrated. But as I think back over the weeks and months, I am filled with great sadness. There have been moments when I’ve been proud of America, moments such as Hurricane Harvey, when so many offered help to the Texans affected by bringing in food, resources, volunteering physical labor for clearing and rebuilding. Moments such as Hurricane Irma, when we offered our neighbors in Florida the assistance they needed to find safety, get clean water, and begin the monumental task of reconstruction. Now we are faced with yet another hurricane which has totally devastated our territory of Puerto Rico, whose people are also American citizens. They need the help of their neighbors more than ever before, and I hope we will stand the test and be there for them in every possible way, because there is such great need there.

But there is much going on in our world that makes me sad. We are quick to judge without checking facts. We accept what we read on facebook and twitter without checking facts. We superimpose motives to the actions of people without finding out the story behind the action—without checking facts. We rush to conclusions without an open heart to hear what the facts are. We trust the word of certain people just because they said it, without checking facts. Yes, two people can look at the same situation and have two differing opinions. Everyone comes from unique backgrounds and has their own take. But we have to start from the point of truth before forming an opinion. And many times a person’s opinion comes from their personal experiences, often painful ones. Shouldn’t we be respecting their pain? Shouldn’t we be trying to understand rather than condemn? Shouldn’t we be actively listening with our hearts?

My sadness comes from all the unrest, the disunity, the bickering over unimportant things. I believe we were created to be kind, to do unto others as we would wish it would be done to us, to think of others before ourselves, to help each other, affirm each other, love (unconditionally) each other, forgive each other (because goodness knows we need all kinds of forgiveness ourselves) and be tolerant and understanding of each other. And to give grace by being willing to allow those differing opinions. Because no one knows what it is to walk in my shoes. No one knows what it is to walk in yours. Pure, sincere empathy should be what we all strive for without rush to judgement or the impulse we have of “you’re wrong and I’m right.” God will take care of the judging.

Why can’t we be blind to color? Why can’t we embrace our differences? Why can’t we respect each other instead of condemning and belittling and mocking those not like us or with a different opinion than ours? Why can’t we value each other? Why can’t we listen with open minds? We have a rich mix of ethnicities, backgrounds, ideas, viewpoints, creativities, and opportunities in this country. We can all contribute to the greatness possible in America. “God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him shall have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

I don’t see any exclusions there. Do you?

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…And A Little Child Will Lead Them

31 08 2017

My heart has been heavy these past months. I’ve seen increased tension, animosity, hatred, impatience and intolerance. Because of the divisiveness, my once-unified country has begun to crack. This is the country my parents, my brother and I fled to after Nazi Germany decimated the Netherlands, followed by the threat of Communism. This is the ‘melting pot’ where all races and ethnicities came together to form a free and welcoming land, a place for all to find opportunity and a better life. This is the place where religion could be pursued without persecution. This is the country where opinions could be freely expressed without fear of retaliation.

What happened?

I recently flew to Washington to visit family. On this flight there were people of many nationalities, and because I chose Southwest, the seating was open. I was one of the earlier boarders and took an aisle seat. As the other passengers filed in, a white gentleman across from me offered the seat beside him to a young black woman. They conversed off and on throughout the flight. Just ahead of me across the aisle sat a little blond girl no older than 2 ½. Occasionally she would turn and smile at me, her dimples flashing, and her plump little leg sticking out the side of her seat. Across from her was a black mother with two children, one an older boy, the other a baby of about a year. The baby was fascinated by the little girl, and reached out a hand to her. Grinning broadly, the girl touched his fingers and giggled as the baby chuckled and toddled toward her. They interacted for several minutes, alternately initiating the contact. People around them were smiling as they watched the children, each child blind to the color of the other.

The stewardesses on the flight treated each child equally, cooing and talking to the little boy, and chatting with the girl. As I observed this throughout the four-hour flight, I felt for that short time as if all was right with the world. This is how it should be. This is the country my family came to for a fresh start. This is the colorblindness Jesus preached—all equal and equally worthy. It gave me new hope.

Now I’m back to reality. The news is full of the hatred between races, the degradation one group thrusts on another, each refusing to take into account (or accept as valid) or even listen to the viewpoint of the other. It hurts my heart. I hope it hurts yours.

There is a saying: A journey begins with a single step. Let’s make that single step. One by one we can spread the gospel of love. One caring act at a time, we can turn the tide. That little girl didn’t see the color of the baby across the aisle. She saw a smile, a child like her on a long flight, a kinship beyond race.

Texas is showing us all what it is to be unified. In the midst of the flooding and devastation brought on by Hurricane Harvey, everyone is helping in whatever way they can. A kind word, a helping hand, a place to stay, food and water to share, encouragement that this too will pass, tears shared because of the myriad of losses the people are feeling already. Offers of help started pouring in as soon as the hurricane hit landfall. Volunteers are lining up to go to the hard-hit areas and help with cleanup. Donations are being offered (water, food, medical supplies, money) given even by those who have little themselves. People are caring, they are praying, they are giving, they are helping, they are loving. There is no regard of color, race, religion. 

This beauty in the face of tragedy, this is my country.  





An Invaluable Legacy

8 08 2017

There is a tremendous emphasis these days on income. How much money you have and what you do with it has become a benchmark of success. As if money could be the precursor to happiness. As if your bank account equates your level of contentment. As if those with little money ought to be miserable.

I don’t deny that lack of money can make life difficult, especially for a family with children whose very existence require a decent income to sustain them. But more to the point, the richest people in the world don’t necessarily have a corner on the happiness market. Yes, those whose income is either non-existent or very low have a much harder life than the middle-income range, but here’s the thing. The most giving and kind-hearted people are often those who have the least.

These bold statements come from personal experience.  As a child, my parents were poor. Were it not for the twelve cows my dad milked for income and which provided milk and butter for us, the meager six acres of asparagus he grew, and my mother’s skillful negotiations for ‘sale’ prices on cases of dented canned sauerkraut and other vegetables, we might likely have starved. Potatoes mashed alternately with apples, kale, sauerkraut and spinach became an every-meal staple for us. Never did either my mom or dad talk about our poverty. Never once did I hear either of them complain, argue, or in any way indicate our lack of income. I wore my cousins’ hand-me-downs, as did my brother. We were always clean, always loved, and always expected to be respectful and well-behaved. Dad made a game of going to a Saturday sale, waiting until the very end when the auctioneer would pile various things into boxes and sell them for a quarter. Often those boxes yielded treasures, things Dad could fix up and use, or fix up and sell at the next auction. He took childlike delight in the money he earned in the process.

I remember vividly the generosity my parents practiced. There was always room for one more at the dinner table, and they shared as though they had more than enough. Often Dad went to the bank to borrow against the next year’s crop because the frost or drought took this year’s. His first priority the next year was to honor his commitment to pay back what he borrowed, even if that meant we got no profit.

And here’s what I learned from all that. I learned that being honorable is a great virtue. I learned that kindness can save a person from despair. I learned that generosity is possible, even when there is next to nothing to share. I learned that we are all equal on this earth if you measure equality in terms of integrity and strength of character. I learned that loving your fellow man is an active verb, something you show in a visible way. And I learned that hope is the one word we all need to hold on to. My parents did that. Their hope and their strong faith carried us all those years ago. What a legacy.





A Lesson in Compassion–Part Two

2 02 2015

I adore Anne Lamott. Her books border on irreverent, and yet there is such a wealth of faith and honesty in them. She says what most of us feel but are afraid to say. Last spring I was privileged to hear her speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing and discovered tIhat she speaks the way she writes—so straightforward and from the heart.

Her post on facebook last week hit home with me: “The world is always going to be a dangerous place, and people get badly banged up, but how can there be more meaning than helping one another stand up in the wind and stay warm?”

That is empathy. One of the best comparisons of empathy versus sympathy is a youtube short I’ve included below. 

If you have the ability to experience the feelings of another person, you have empathy for them. It goes beyond sympathy, the caring and understanding of the suffering of someone. Those words differ in their emotional meaning. Sympathy is acknowledging another person’s emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance. With empathy you understand their feelings because you have experienced it yourself in some way–you can put yourself in their shoes.

Then there is compassion. You feel empathy for someone, you want to help alleviate their suffering, and you take action by putting that person first.

Sympathy focuses on awareness
Empathy focuses on experience
Compassion focuses on action

I can feel your pain. It must be so hard to get through alone. Is there any way I can help? And then give that person a hug. You have no idea how much that small action will mean to someone in the pit. I know. It means the world.

p.s. I apologize for the different fonts and font sizes. I’m having  difficulty in adapting to the new WordPress format.

 





A Lesson In Compassion–Part One

26 01 2015

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First of all, I have to admit I can be pretty self-centered. Though I could blame my background for that shortcoming, (another story for another day) it is ultimately a problem I could control if I worked at it with more intensity. Maybe this post should have been titled ‘It’s All About Me’. Because it is.

Let me explain. I have a big yard with several flowerbeds which require constant maintaining. Just a few blocks away is Blandford Nature Center. It has a huge deer population, many of which love my yard. I swear after dark there’s a flashing sign in deerinese that says ‘y’all come and graze here’. So they do. A lot.

I’ve seen them meander across my yard during the day as well. You’d think they owned the place. Many flowers, bushes and trees have seen their demise because of these creatures. The purportedly ‘deer proof’ plants have been devoured with relish. Four hundred plus tulip bulbs were an appetizer. Gone. Thirty rose bushes served as dessert. (Why aren’t they blooming? Oh, silly me, the deer ate the buds.) The rest (or most of it) has been the main course.

Am I frustrated? You bet.

I’ve tried many remedies. Liquid Fence for the low, low price of $40 plus per container (I need at least two of those a year) and other more creative options have all failed. Can I say it without being judged? I hate the deer. Absolutely hate them. The hunters can just have at it as far as I’m concerned. (Wait, don’t send hate mail just yet! Please read on first.) Used to think the fawns were adorable and the adults were beautiful. Not anymore. They have cost me hundreds in replacement foliage, plus all the gallons of Liquid Fence. Did I mention the smell of the aforementioned spray? Well.

So yesterday I caught a glimpse of some type of large animal outside my bedroom window. When I looked more closely, I saw a full-grown deer leaning up against the house. Grabbing my iPhone, I snapped a couple of pictures as the deer stared at me not moving. It didn’t seem at all afraid as I shot the photos. The deer’s eyes were calm as it studied me and I saw no fear, only that steady gaze meeting mine. I could have touched it had there not been a window between us.

Then I saw something else. The deer was standing on three legs, the fourth held high off the ground. It was too close to the brick to see why it stood like that, so I waited. Several minutes later when it hobbled away from the house I was able to identify the problem. It had been permanently crippled, the back left leg somehow mangled. The deer stopped a few times, looked back at me, then limped on slowly working its way to the back of the yard.IMG_1058

I can’t get the image out of my head. I will never see the deer in that hateful way again. That creature will die this winter, of that I’m sure. Its ribs were prominent, the speed with which it was able to move was minimal, and it certainly had no allies. Here’s what that deer did for me: it made me see it as real. A living, breathing, beautiful yet damaged creature created by God. What an awful fate it will face. My heart broke for that deer looking for shelter and food.  A hard thing for this crippled one. And it made me think.

Although many of our handicaps aren’t visible, aren’t you and I damaged too? That part in the first paragraph of this post about it being all about me, that’s a handicap. My vision of the world around me is limited to how it affects me. Poor me. Pretty sad that I’m so absorbed in myself that I can’t see the pain of the world around me. Gotta work on that. When others get accolades about their accomplishments or have something good happen to them, it’s so human to think but what about me? I deserve that. I work hard. Why not me? Gotta work on that, too.

Can I become a better person? Absolutely. That deer taught me to appreciate what I have instead of envying what others have. My kind of crippled can be worked on, but that deer–well, its fate is pretty much sealed. Those animals need to forage in order to survive, regardless of what that does to my yard. As for me, I have hundreds of blessings to appreciate. It’s not all about me. God created me, so I know I’m not junk. He gave me much in relationships, in good health, in a  brain that serves me well, in circumstances that could be so much worse. . . He gave me enough. So if the awards or recognition don’t come, if I never make it in the publishing world, if all I do is write what is in my heart and share with those I love, leaving the rest to God, so be it. I’m working on accepting that, not as willingly as I should, but still.

By the way, I’m starting a new career–cheerleading.





The Sunflower, the story of Simon Wiesenthal, a Polish Jew

22 04 2012

I’ve been reading a book titled The Sunflower. My friend, Diet Eman loaned it to me on our last visit, telling me it was an excellent book. Little did she know that the moral and ethical questions posed inside its pages would come to me at a time of tumult and uncertainty in my broader community.

In the first pages of The Sunflower I became acquainted with Simon Wiesenthal, a Polish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. His story mirrors that of so many other survivors of the holocaust–deprivation, starvation, beatings, psychological torture, forced labor, and fear that multiplies and overtakes the lives of those in the camp. Most prisoners die. Those who live begin to wish for death. It is an unimaginable existence.

On the way to the work camp to which Simon is assigned, there is a cemetery for the German soldiers. On each grave there is a sunflower, its bright face lifted to the sun. Simon writes:
“Suddenly I envied the dead soldiers. Each had a sunflower to connect him with the living world, and butterflies to visit his grave. For me there would be no sunflower. I would be buried in a mass grave, where corpses would be piled on top of me. No sunflower would ever bring light into my darkness, and no butterflies would dance above my dreadful tomb.” (pp. 14-15, The Sunflower)

Simon is on work detail one day when he is taken aside by a nurse. She insists he accompany her to the bedside of a dying man. The man is covered in bandages and obviously near death, but has a story to tell, and then a question to ask. He says he cannot die in peace until he has talked to Simon.

The patient is a member of the deadly SS. He is haunted by the crimes he has committed and wants to confess to, and be given absolution by, a Jew. The problem lies in the ethics of the request. Can Simon represent an entire people, and can he answer for them all?

Simon listens, horrified, angry, unable to speak. He can’t forgive–the words simply don’t come. He has to choose between compassion and justice, silence and truth, and he finds no words. The soldier dies without the forgiveness spoken, and Simon is haunted by his lack of action. Was he wrong not to forgive? What should he have said or done? Or was he right in saying nothing? Could he (or anyone) speak for the dead or their families?

Only the first 98 pages are dedicated to this story. The remainder of the book has fifty-three responses to Wiesenthal’s questions by both men and women. They include theologians, political leaders, writers, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust survivors, and victims of attempted genocide in Bosnia, Cambodia, China, and Tibet.

It seems such a simple question: do I forgive? Turns out, this is one of the most complex questions I’ve encountered. Pick up the book and read for yourselves. The answer you had ready in your mind before you began may be very different when you’ve finished. I know mine was. I’d love to hear your input.