The Strength of a Redwood

I recently had the privilege of accompanying a group of  32 senior citizens traveling along the Pacific Coast from San Francisco to Victoria, British Columbia. This particular tour is full of absolutely beautiful vistas. Among one of the more impressive creations are the Redwood trees.

I learned a few things about the Redwoods on this trip and could not help but see the similarities they have with the “say-yes-to-life” seniors that I had the honor to spend 10 days with.

  • A Redwood forest is crowded with life. That is true of these people. They stay strong by saying “yes” to life. Their lives are filled with families and friends, volunteer opportunities, hobbies, church life and travels.
  • The Redwoods’ root system is entwined with others. Researchers don’t even understand how they can grow so tall when they have no tap root that digs deep to secure it. Likewise, these friends grew up in a time when neighbors depended on neighbors and family worked together to make ends meet, make their fun and make their memories. They are healthy because of their relationships.
  • The Redwoods help hold one another up. Their best defense against storms is the shelter they find among other Redwoods. Time after time on this tour, I saw them forming friendships, helping one another, encouraging one another and even commiserating with one another. Their strength is due in part to their associations.
  • Redwoods are amazingly resilient. They stand the test of time. What they can live through and have lived through is nothing short of amazing. The same is true of the people that travel on our tours.
  • Each tree wears the successes and scars of the years. I am always in awe as I learn pieces of the stories represented by those I travel with on these tours. The losses, illnesses, diseases and hardships don’t stop them. They continue to learn and grow. They are modest about their  successes and humbly blend into the rest of the forest.
  • The larger Redwoods fall, letting in the light for the younger ones. Most of our travelers have grandchildren and some have great – grandchildren. As our time winds down on this earth, it is encouraging to know that as we step aside, we make room and light the way for future generations.

Each of us walk through life exposed to both sunlight and rain. The elements help form us into who we are. While we are attending to daily life, God is fashioning something tall and strong in stature and spirit. May each of us be full of life, entwined with one another, provide one another shelter, and with resilience wear the successes and scars of the years. And may we always be willing to step aside, letting the light in for others.

Abundance is… growing stronger through all that comes our way.

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Here and Now

Sitting at the airport during a layover, I noticed clusters of people in distinct places. A closer look revealed that they were all sitting in areas surrounding electrical outlets where their phones or laptops were plugged in. They were oblivious to one another, but all had gathered in the same areas for the same purpose. In this electronic age, it’s easy to do. We can sit next to each other, across from each other, be in the same room, or at the same gathering and not be in the present moment aware of those that are sharing our spaces and our lives.

I recently attended the first National Laundry Love Gathering. Laundry Love is  about people, presence and provision. There is something simple and sometimes profound about meeting at the laundromat and hanging out together. That’s what we do at Laundry Love. We come face to face with each other, as we each live out our own unique story. Most of our stories include at least one chapter on hardship. The beauty of finding friends at the laundromat is we find that we have more in common than dirty laundry.

I realize this is part of what has helped me fall in love with Laundry Love in general and the people in particular.  The fourth Saturday of every month is set aside. Set aside to meet new people, to help with the costs of laundry and occasionally to be let into their lives in ways we could never have anticipated. We are aware of each person who walks in, talk with those who want to talk, respect the privacy of those who don’t, play with the kids, help carry laundry in, offer snacks and help in whatever other ways we can.

There is something striking about presence; about living in the moment and being fully aware of  those around us. It is why most of our gratitude lists contain some of the simplest things. When we are fully present, we are mindful… and thankful … for the laughter, the sunset, time with our friend, or any of the other things that bring joy to our lives.

I also understand this about God: He is “I Am.” He is ever present, always personal. He cares deeply for people and pays special attention to children, orphans, widows and the poor. When I am present with others, I can better represent the One who loves each of us best.

Today I challenge myself to be more aware and less consumed with messages, notifications, lists and emails. Laundry Love has helped teach me the value of time together with no agenda. It has taught me that being present is most important and that generosity of spirit is a key to empathy and connecting with others. I want to do a better job of living in the here and now.

Abundance is discovering true gifts by being present.

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Leadercast 2015

I was asked to speak at the lunch portion of Leadercast 2015 in Salina, KS today. The theme was “The Brave Ones.”

Exactly two months ago, on March 8, video footage from a surveillance camera in a tiny town near Spokane, Washington, was shown on national news of a man running down the street with a toddler in his arms. Shortly after, you see a little girl running down the street after him. The owner of a nearby antique store  said she was screaming, “That man got my baby brother!” Not far behind the little girl, you see a young boy running down the street pushing an empty stroller.

Thankfully, that store owner sent her teenage grandson and his friend to chase the man. He abandoned the 22 month old boy and fled. Though they were unable to find him, the toddler was unharmed.

When the 10 year old brother and eight year old sister were interviewed by the local news, they said nothing about fear or courage. They simply said they were trying to get their brother back.

Courage comes in all forms and is fueled in different ways. My actions in our community and whatever courage that displays are fueled first by my love for God, and secondly by empathy for my “neighbors.”

One of the guiding inspirations of Salina Shares is  Proverbs 13:12 from The Message:

“Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick  but a sudden good break can turn life around.”

Stick with me as I use that same news story as an analogy for what has now become Salina Shares.

It all began with a fun” day. Those children near Spokane had headed to the park for some innocent fun. Two and a half years ago, I gathered some friends for a fun “random acts of kindness” party. It was such a hit that we continued the practice for the next year. Everybody was hooked!

So I talked to them about a place in Salina that I call “the tucked away community.” Many in town  don’t know it exists. From all appearances is the epitome of poverty.

This is what we assumed as we sat around my dining room table… that most residents were hispanic, that we would need an interpreter, that many were here illegally, that it was dangerous and that we knew what they needed. Sometimes that is what happens when we sit in our living rooms, conference rooms or churches meeting about what we could do. Though filled with good intentions, we assume we know the needs and that with a committee and proper financing (at the very least) we can get a “project” started.

We had neither. What we did have was a willingness to do something. One day I drove up to the area and stopped my car a half a block short of those trailers. I said, “God, I’m so tired of talking about it! Show me what we can do.” The answer seemed way too simple: Play at the Park. I had pulled my car over and parked alongside a little neighborhood park. What if we just invited them to play in their own park and simply provided some friendship and fun? What if we spent our time being community together instead of fostering the “us” and “them” mentality and doing our good deed for the day?

The next time my friends and I got together, I told them what I wanted to do. Instead of heading out for acts of kindness, one carload of friends drove up and began posting brightly colored signs all around the neighborhood inviting them to play in the park from noon-1:00. When we arrived back shortly before noon there were about 20 people there, with more arriving over the next half hour.

Play at the Park

Here’s what happens when we leave our living rooms, conference rooms, and church sanctuaries. We meet people, we look into their eyes, we learn their stories, we meet their children and we understand that we are so much more alike than we are different. This is what else happens when we leave the comfort of our own homes. It gets uncomfortable. It can be downright scary. And we can even come face to face with the evils of this world just like those young children did when a stranger came and took their brother.

We have met many people living at the edge of homelessness and steeped in hopelessness in that neighborhood. The most threatened I ever felt, however,  is when I stood toe to toe with the owner of a run-down hotel as we moved two families with young children out and into public housing. We know there is drug abuse. We see the mental illness. We hear the story of the taxi cab driver that was shot on the corner of where we host our times together. Just a couple of weeks ago a few of us drove into this area, set up a long white table and served tostadas on the spur of the moment. Some of the men there told us we were brave – that nobody will even deliver pizza there after dark. We were there from 5:00-7:00 and served over 100 tostadas.

In the course of the last two years we continue to play in the park with this neighborhood. We share our food and clothing. We took solar lights to over 200 homes to bring an element of light and safety. We filled backpacks with new clothes, socks and underwear, instead of school supplies. We took Santa Claus at Christmas and passed out gifts to the men, women and children. In July, we will serve another meal and create more good memories with a Disney themed afternoon. We help them create good memories right where they live.

What we have learned in the last two years is that we don’t need interpreters; most speak English. They all wish they were living in better conditions. They want better for their children than where they are right now. It is a transient community but they watch out for one another and share what they receive with each other.

In a way, I am that little girl running after that mean man who took her brother.  I’m chasing down things such as poverty, hunger and homelessness, believing that they have valuable lives in their grip. I’m not thinking it’s so courageous. I’m just doing what I can with my one little voice. I’ve hardly given a thought to what will happen if I actually catch these mean taskmasters. Realistically, there may be little I can do. But just like that one little girl – her voice caught the attention of others nearby and because of that her brother was safe.

Salina Shares is the brother running behind his sister. They are united in purpose. He has the stroller. He too, responds by taking the one thing that he does have that his brother will need when they get him back. Salina Shares is clusters of friends, throughout our town who are willing to give what they can to  help others out. Being out in the community and identifying needs has led to two year round projects.

Salina Shares works with Salina Housing Authority to help those who move into public housing sometimes with virtually nothing.  Almost overnight, we are able to provide furniture, dishes, pots and pans, silverware, towels and food.

Salina Shares is the driving force behind Laundry Love in Salina. We are at the Missing Sock and Westside Laundromats on the 4th Saturday of each month and will pay for up to 5 loads of laundry per family. We have also been given permission to go into Speedy Wash as well but don’t have the funds yet to be able to do so. Our dream is to turn the empty Wash House on North Santa Fe into a Laundry Love laundromat. Clean clothing and bedding is something that every person deserves.

Mark Twain said that courage is resistance to fear, not the absence of fear. I have found that to be true. I have learned that my faith in God, having the support of friends alongside me, offering hope and  affirming the dignity of others all give me courage to do what I can when I can.

Serving Alongside You,

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Closed for Remodeling

This business is “Closed for Remodeling.”

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This is what now stands on that corner lot…

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There have been some jokes and comments about this sign advertising that they are closed for remodeling. When we first saw it, we thought maybe they would put in new seating or update the décor. Not long after, we saw a vacant lot. The truth is, it is being rebuilt from the ground up. Nobody is quite sure why. The original structure did not seem old or useless, but that is just me looking from the outside in. Those in charge must have had good reason to spend the time and money to “remodel,” all the while losing revenue from the closed location. I’m sure the new facility will be better than ever.

 

I immediately thought of a few friends who are going through  very difficult times.  The pile of concrete and rubble would be an appropriate image for how they are feeling their lives look right now. They had little to no notice before the walls came crashing in and life as they know it changed completely. It is easy to shut down when you are just looking at small parts of what used to be your whole life.  Right now, nothing makes sense. There are just pieces left of what used to be familiar, recognizable, comfortable and enjoyable. The problem is, the remnants are now none of those things. The pile is a brutal reminder of what used to be and the demolition just feels overwhelming.

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All that is left is heavy work equipment and piles of concrete. I’m sure it will all be hauled away in the next couple days. No doubt it will be done quickly so that progress can continue.

 

 

 

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Most of us have hit seasons like this in our lives. It is hard to go on; hard to find our place in what others gently refer to as  a “new normal.” It is hard to see new promise and possibilities amidst the rubble. We may have even agreed to the remodel; we just never knew it would mean starting over from the ground up. We didn’t anticipate being torn down in order to be made new.

We were up for some self-improvement – a new coat of paint, perhaps, or a decorative door or more efficient windows. Maybe some prettier landscaping for better curb appeal. We didn’t plan on demolition.  We want the new, but please, God, no more pain!

The truth is, life can be hard.  More often than not, it is the people we have traveling alongside us that make it possible for us to even see our way past the vacant lots to new possibilities.  Let’s be people who weep with one another, rejoice with one another and see each other through to better days!

Believing For Better Days With You,

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Impeccable Timing

“I’d rather be moved by something than be impressed by something.” – Nate Ruess

I wish I had written that. It is exactly how I feel. It is why, at the end of me, when I grow so weary in doing good, God frequently takes over and once again shows me how it’s really done. It’s at the core of Salina Shares. He shows up, He touches people’s hearts and opens their hands and needs are met unselfishly and with great joy.  I get to participate. I get to be a conduit of sorts, but people come forth from the most unexpected circumstances and share. When all is said and done the compassion and generosity is more impressive than any earthly belonging. Here is our latest “story.”

Thursday a friend called me informing me of a woman and her ten year old son who had recently moved here from Florida. She told me they had just moved into public housing but that they needed everything. Thankfully, my friend offered a full size bed. Score! One of the hardest things to find, was crossed off the list before I had even begun!

I called this new friend, introduced myself and asked more specifically about what she needed. She admitted that they basically needed everything. She told me they had a blanket and some clothes but at the top of her list of needs was pots and pans and toilet paper. I told her I had both of those things and I would do what I could to find some other furniture and provisions.

That morning, I had an appointment. Just a month ago, the owner of that business had asked me to come talk to her staff because she wanted all of them to understand what Salina Shares is. One of the gals who works there came up to me as soon as I walked in and told me that the single bed that she had previously offered to me, needed to be moved out sooner than later. In my mind, I was saving it for someone else that I know will need it in a couple weeks. In that instant, I knew that it was meant for this 10 year old boy. Within 3 hours my husband and a friend had picked up both beds and delivered them to this new family.

In the meantime, a young man who is raising his 4 younger siblings, got in touch with me offering to help. He went out immediately and bought pillows and a vacuum for this family that he will probably never meet. He gave them to my husband at the address where he was loading up the full size bed.

I had some dishes, pots and pans, silverware and towels that had been donated to Salina Shares for just this very reason. I left work to get them and to meet my husband at this woman’s home. In the five minutes I was home, another friend pulled into the driveway and delivered a bag full of food. Honestly, the timing had me in awe!

That afternoon, my husband went on to deliver a kitchen table and two living room chairs to this home. After work, more food was delivered to our home.  I took it over to her, along with sheets and comforters for their beds and some glasses. Once I got there, I realized I had forgotten the refrigerated food and assured her that I would be back the next day.

I talked to her the following morning and let her know I would be by about 1:00 after an 11:00 o’clock meeting.  I asked if there was anything special I could do for her son. A favorite activity or food? She said, “no,” and thanked me appreciatively for all that we had given them thus far.

Checking my phone after my meeting, this message was waiting for me.

“Mrs. Debbie, Jonathan really wants a scooter. If you go by one in your donation pile please grab it for him. Thanks.”

Amazingly, nearly 3 months earlier, just days before Christmas, another family had given me a scooter, saying they were sure I would find just the right person to give it to. Throughout the Christmas season, I never had opportunity to give it to anybody. I knew right where it was in my closet. I went home from my meeting to get the refrigerated food AND the scooter! As I was ready to pull out of the driveway, a friend once again pulled into my driveway behind me. She had bought a variety of kitchen utensils to help. We had talked the night before about how canned food was donated but they had no can opener. Here she was with a can opener and more! I told her I was on my way to their house to deliver the refrigerated food she had donated. A minute later and I would have missed her!

I was able to deliver that scooter to just the right person at just the right time. I told him the story about how it was meant just for him; about the family that gave it and about the God who orchestrated it all- how before he ever moved to Salina, God knew he wanted a scooter. He smiled.

This is a wonderful example of how Salina Shares operates. I made this need known with one post on Facebook. I didn’t make any phone calls or repeated pleas, yet within 24 hours a household had been set up and food had been provided. Some give from their extra; others willingly purchase for others, still others give sacrificially a portion of what they need. I have learned that no matter how much or little we have, a generous spirit is born from the realization that we have “enough” and a compassion for others.

More importantly, this is also a shining example of how God operates. The timing in every instance was absolutely amazing! No person could have synchronized it better. People were led to act immediately to embrace the interruption, knowing we each had something we could give to make this family’s life a little bit better.

“I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers.” Isaiah 65:24. God did it with a scooter and two beds this time. It reminds me that I can trust Him for that bed I now need in 12 days.

Abundance is divine appointments, generous people and God’s impeccable timing!

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How Do We Use Our Voice?

There is one television show I set aside time for and it is “The Voice .”

The new season began on Monday and continued on Tuesday for two hours each evening. That’s a pretty big commitment but to me, it is worth it.  With this show, I am not only entertained, but inevitably, I am also inspired!

For those of you who have never watched it, there are 4 coaches who sit with their backs to the contestants, who come to the stage, one by one to sing. The goal is to get one of the judges to turn their chair. When they do, the bottom of the chair lights up with the message, “I Want You.” It only takes one chair to turn for the singer to make it to the next step on the show. Many times, however, more than one judge turns their chair and the contestant has to decide which of the 4 superstars they want for a coach.

Every season the competition seems to be better and better.  That makes it especially challenging for the young people (ages 15-20) who have good voices but may lack the experience and/or confidence that the older contestants have. Monday night 17 year old Bryce sang “Cool Kids”  and not one coach turned their chair to proclaim that they wanted her.  She began to cry.

What happened next, no one would have predicted. Pharrell Williams, one of the coaches, walked up to the stage and began to encourage her. He told her to keep singing.  Then he told her to join in as he began to sing the song that he wrote, produced and has become so famous for. She brushed her tears away and started singing with him. They sang the upbeat, iconic, “Happy” song together as the studio audience clapped along and those of us in the home audience shed a few tears of our own. What a moment! I am sure that Bryce will never forget it!

Proverbs 13:12 from The Message reads, “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.” Who would have guessed this sentiment would be so beautifully illustrated on “The Voice?”

Andy brings his football to Laundry Love. He takes the young boys outside and throws the ball around with them while their parents are doing the laundry.

There is a man who comes into our offices periodically and hands out Crème Saver candies. In talking with him one day, he said he’s given away over 14,000 all over town for years now. The candy is always accompanied with a smile and an encouraging word.

My daughter texted me Monday night from her workplace to tell me there was a homeless woman there and to ask me if I had a hat I could give her.  I quickly packed up a few hats for her to choose from, a pair of gloves, a scarf and some hand and foot warmers. I bought her a hot chocolate and sat and visited and watched tv with her for a little while. I’m sure my actions didn’t turn her life around, but I would like to think that they still spoke to her.

Gilda pulls over on a moment’s notice when she feels compelled to give someone a ride.

I have other friends who pay for the person in back of them at a drive through or a toll booth.

I know a growing number of people that provide clothes or food at a moment’s notice when they hear of a need.

When we turn our chairs… when we stop what we’re doing and redirect our attention to seeing people and helping to meet their needs, I  hope that the message would be,

” I See You” and more importantly, “He Sees You.”  You are dear and important and valuable to the loving God that created you and because of that, you are important to me.

I want them to know – even for a moment, that they are not alone or forgotten or invisible. I pray that the sudden good break, however small, would be an encouragement to put one foot in front of another to walk toward a new day, a new season, a new thing.

We all have a voice. It may not be professionally trained or showcased before millions, but I am convinced that our message is still loud and clear. We are not famous and our deeds are not spectacular, but we have the opportunity every day to encourage others;  to help restore their hope, their peace or their dignity.

I will continue to make time to watch The Voice and to listen to His Voice. On the television show, contestants are infused with confidence or joy when just one chair is turned. May those around us feel the same as we turn our chair for them!

Abundance is Turning My Chair and Building a Team With You,

DebbieSignature

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Cocoa and Community

The time and temperature sign read 28 degrees last Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m.  The setting of the sun made it feel colder.  A line of people sitting on concrete with their backs against brick walls would have seemed to make it feel even colder. But there was a sense of community that was heart-warming.

Last weekend Salina hosted the Missions of Mercy Dental Clinic at our Bicentennial Center. Dental services were offered free of charge on a first come first serve basis beginning at 4:30 a.m. on Friday and ending at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. The first people lined up on Wednesday at 1:00 p.m.

With temperatures forecasted to dip well below freezing for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, some  friends and I headed  over Wednesday night to serve hot chocolate and pizza to those who would be out in the elements for nearly 48 hours. We made sure they had hats and gloves and their fill of hot chocolate. We learned where they were from and what they were anticipating having done. Many were there to have their teeth pulled.

My friends and I left grateful and a little bit sad. We returned to heated homes with every convenience. Most of us had taken our dental care for granted. Now, our new friends were the last people most of us thought of before we went to sleep and the first people we thought of when we woke up. I learned later that one of my friends dropped off a thermos full of mocha coffee  on her way to work on Thursday for a girl who said it was her favorite. She left it outside her tent with a note attached.

Thursday night, those same friends and a few more joined me to once again take hot chocolate and snacks to the growing number of people lining up to ensure themselves one of the first places. This time I also took hats, gloves, hand warmers and foot warmers. Those were gone before we reached the end of the line. The recipient of the mocha coffee hugged me when she saw me again. She asked me if I saw the comment on Salina Shares’ Facebook page thanking us for our kindness the night before. I told her, yes, I had seen it. She told me it was from her mom in Wichita, so happy that people were looking out for her daughters.

As we went down the line, we were touched by the kindness we witnessed and received. People were truly looking out for one another. They were sharing what they had, however little it may have been. Towards the end of our time there a young couple arrived and made their way around the building to the back of the line. They came with nothing to sit on, no blankets or warm coats, completely unprepared for the harsh cold. One couple near them had two blankets and gave them one. In another part of the line we met a single man who had ordered a pizza and after eating a couple slices, went to those around him in line to see if anyone else wanted some. As we were about to leave, one of my friends handed me a ten dollar bill that had been given to her from someone she served hot chocolate to. They wanted to contribute toward what we were doing.

More than one person asked me who we were with and why we were there. We told them we were from Salina Shares and we were there because when we thought of them lining up outside, we knew they would be cold. We knew the hot chocolate was a temporary solution, but we hoped it would warm them up for a little while and let them know people care.

It’s called empathy and it really is that simple. It is what will finally move us out of our living rooms, conference rooms, or church sanctuaries to reach out to others. It is what will move us from gratitude for what we do have, to actually giving away what we have. Empathy will move us right out of our comfort zones.

Henri Nouwen once wrote that “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world, but leads us deeper into it.” I have definitely found this to be true. In the process, I have also learned much about how to be community from people like the dental clinic clients, my Laundry Love friends, and residents of the Del Rey trailer park. I am convinced that they can teach my friends and I a thing or two.

Connecting with community and spiritual service can be as simple as cocoa on a cold night.

Abundantly Blessed by Those Teaching Me,

DebbieSignature

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