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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Rejoicing in Just One

His name is Tony. He is a soft-spoken, gentle spirited man who I met at one of our local laundromats. On the fourth Saturday of each month, I would set up shop, hauling in a little table, detergent, dryer sheets, a case of water, snacks and rolls of quarters. We call it Laundry Love. It is a national initiative but a group of us have made it come alive in Salina, Kansas.

No matter how early I got there, Tony would be waiting for me. We would great each other, he would set up the table for me and I would give him a small packet with $3.00 in it. It was just enough to wash and dry one load. At Laundry Love we offer to pay for up to 5 loads per family.  Tony said he didn’t want to take advantage.

We’d talk about how he walks everywhere, his good report from the doctor at the VA, his military service and his upcoming trip to Seattle in July to visit his daughter. I asked if they talked often. Hardly at all, he said. He hadn’t seen her in years and has been anticipating this trip for a very long time. As we talked he would meticulously fold and roll his laundry. When he was done, he would hug me, thank us and take off walking down the road with a backpack full of clean clothes.

On the fourth Saturday in December, Tony was once again waiting for me when I got there. I asked him how long he had been there. He said he couldn’t really sleep the night before, so he got up. He left his home at 6:00 and arrived at the laundromat at 8:00.  It was always incredible for us to know that Tony had walked all that way to have one load of laundry paid for. We had a hunch that the friends he had made there made the walk as worthwhile as the clean load of laundry. At least we hoped that was the case.

We offered him a ride many times. I talked to him about the scenario of rain, snow or ice as winter descends on Kansas. What if the fourth Saturday fell on an inclimate weather day? I gave him my work number and my cell number to call for a ride but I knew he never would. I assured him that a man could transport him. He continually declined, citing the physical benefits of so much walking. He never would tell us where he lived. All he would say is “north of Pacific.” In December he talked about how he had lived on $2.00 for the past 4 months. I secretly always worried that he was homeless.

This past Saturday I arrived at the laundromat with my little table, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, a case of water, rolls of quarters and a dozen fresh donuts.  I also had a card for Tony. He had been on my mind throughout the month. I wrote about how glad I was we had met and enclosed a $15 gift card to a local grocery store. I knew there was a chance he may not accept it but felt compelled to do it nonetheless.

There was just one problem. Tony wasn’t there. He was always waiting at the little table toward the front of the laundromat. My eyes scanned the rest of the laundromat, thinking maybe he was talking with someone or had somehow started his laundry on his own. I checked the area with the tv thinking maybe he had decided to watch tv while he was waiting. Tony just wasn’t there.

My heart sunk. I worried that he was sick or injured. I knew there was no way we could help him. We had no way to contact him and no idea of where to find him. I set aside his little packet with $3.00 in it and went about serving the others that were there for Laundry Love.

About 45 minutes later, Tony arrived, without his laundry. He explained that he had started receiving Social Security this month and would no longer be at Laundry Love. He didn’t want to take advantage. He wanted us to help those who needed it more than he did. He went on to explain that without our help he would have been washing his laundry in the bathtub and that he so appreciated our generosity and kindness. I told him it wouldn’t be the same without him. He conceded a bit and said he may come back to see us (and do his one load) every now and again.

He handed me $15.00 and told me to help others. I handed him the card I had written him. He thanked me for it without opening it, hugged me and said his goodbyes to the team that so faithfully serves at Laundry Love each month.

When I began this journey, I hardly knew what to say to people as they came into the laundromat. Now here I was, feeling a sense of loss because I would no longer be seeing my friend. The laundromat was bustling busy, with every washer taken and many other new friends there to talk to and here I was missing just one.

I thought of instances in the Bible where just one is important.  A shepherd left  his 99 sheep, to go find one that was lost, ten lepers were healed by Jesus but only one returned to thank him and a woman who had ten silver coins  turned her house upside down to find the one she had lost. In each scenario there was rejoicing for the one!

It is the beauty of Laundry Love, or anything else that takes us out of ourselves and out of our homes and into our community. It is taking the time to talk to others, affirming that their one life really does matter. It is  exchanging small talk only to discover friends, acquaintances or interests  we have in common and realizing what a small world this is. It is finding out that we each have a place in this world, and sometimes it is right next to one another.

Tony has taught me a lot and we will miss seeing him. For his one life, however, we rejoice!

Learning Lessons One By One,

DebbieSignature

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Delivering Gifts

It is a season filled with sights and sounds. Some are traditional, some symbolic, others are spontaneous celebrations. Friends and families gather, memories are made and remembered, and inevitably some photos are taken to capture the moments.

Not all moments that touch our hearts can be captured in a photo.

This year I have not done a good job at documenting my life  in either pictures or words. Acts of kindness have grown into a group called Salina Shares, increasing in number of those who want to somehow help, make a difference, or impact someone else’s life. I can tell you that some of the most profound moments, I have no photos of.

Recently, we held a Christmas party for a group of families that we had planned for all year. Gifts were bought throughout the year and a major wrapping party was held in July. We were able to bless these families in a variety of ways that had meaning to them. What we did capture in photos, was a picture of each family with Santa or Mrs. Claus for them to remember the happy time they had there. What was not photographed were the tears that escaped before the women could catch them, as they were handed gift certificates to a local meat market.

When the party was over we still had gifts and brand new clothing left. I asked “Santa” if he would be willing to go with me to the “tucked away community” that I have written about on my blog in the past. He and his wife agreed. My daughter texted a friend who lives in that community to see if he was home. He was! She told him our plan, knowing that he was the one who could communicate with so many there, who otherwise would not come out of their homes for a stranger.

I will  never forget the looks and smiles on those children’s faces when they saw Santa! We unloaded the boxes and tubs of gifts and clothing as mothers handed their little ones to Santa. One mom handed him her week old baby and took a picture on her phone. I couldn’t help but think of the scripture that talks about Jesus taking children in his arms and blessing them. That is exactly what our ‘Santa’ was doing. Honestly, had we taken any pictures it would have ruined the moment. Instead, we talked with them, smiled with them and gave to them all we had. The needs in this little community are massive. We have made efforts to spend time with them at their neighborhood park, to let them know they are not forgotten, but have never had access to so many of them as this unplanned, spontaneous moment.

We drove away with empty tubs and full hearts. I said to my daughter, “I just had Christmas!” We talked all the way home about our experiences there and how some of those children would never forget the day Santa came to them. My hunch is that the four of us will never forget that day either.

On Monday, December 22, a couple of friends and I met at a “Free Store” run by one of the agencies in Salina that houses women and their children in crisis. The Free Store is open to  anyone in the community, not just those served by this agency. It was our third year of going there to serve hot chocolate and coffee and to provide gifts for the children or grandchildren of those shopping for clothing. We do not advertise, we simply show up one morning sometime during the week of Christmas.

We arrived a half hour before they opened and one woman was outside the door, waiting for them to open and beginning what would become the line to get in. She was festively dressed in a green jacket and a red hat but her demeanor was anything but festive. It was clear life had taken its toll on her. I said good morning as I took the first load in but she did not look at me or respond. When it came time to open, the manager of the store explained to the people in line what we were doing. This woman was first at our table asking if we by any chance had some cologne for her daughter. We wrapped it for her, wished her Merry Christmas and may have seen for a brief moment a little bit of light come to her eyes.

I only took one photo that morning and it was of the outside of the building from a distance a half hour before we opened. No picture can rightly tell the stories of lost jobs, lost health and lost hope that we heard that morning. Likewise, it isn’t easy for a quick snapshot to capture a brief moment of love, hope or faith restored by one small act of kindness.

At this highly decorated time of year, I am reminded that Jesus came, not with bright lights and beautiful adornments, but to a stable as an infant. God came, in flesh to us to meet our greatest needs.

I have spent 2014 meeting and listening to people who are trying to hold their heads up in the midst of great need and what feels like overwhelming circumstances. I have delivered food, clothing, toys and furniture. My prayer is that I have also delivered a taste of God’s love, mercy, hope and joy.

To all of you who have contributed the food, clothing, toys, furniture and money to be able to meet some of those needs, thank you so very much! It has been absolutely heartwarming to see how well Salina Shares!

Merry Christmas!

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Full of Thanks and Growing in Giving

The word says it all, but I’m learning more all the time.

Thanks + Giving = a worthy celebration.

It isn’t simply a holiday or one day a year. It’s a lifestyle.  It is a life that is willing to turn aside from the urgent to notice the moments that may not be “big” or “special” in anyone else’s book, but are moments of blessing nonetheless. When we take the time to really look at all that we’ve been blessed with, we are not only a thankful people, but a generous people.

I am acutely aware of the lavish love and abundant grace my heavenly Father has bestowed upon me. Every day. Because of that, I can extend the same to others. Every day.

As we gather around our table full of food and shoulder to shoulder with friends or family, I am also very much aware that not everyone has the same. The food and family that I have is what enables me to share my food and be family to others. Every day.

Over the years, I have made a habit of keeping abundance lists, of putting pen to my gratitude, of counting 1000 gifts over the course of a year.  So this thanksgiving, I decided to challenge myself a bit more and write down 1000 things I am thankful for this month.

The main thing I learned is that it is this hurried, busy life that keeps us from noticing. There were late nights, when I finally stopped, that  I had to look back over my day to count the moments of tangible and intangible gifts that had been bestowed on me throughout my day. I would have missed them completely if I had not stopped.

The other thing I noticed, is how many people ended up on my gratitude list. A friendly phone call, an unexpected text, help from an employee from another company, family, friends, those who do favors for me all the time. The friendship and love I am thankful for enables me to give generously of the same to others.  It makes for a very rich life. Not perfect, not polished, but full of thanks and growing in giving.

I have decided not to murmur and complain about the loss of Thanksgiving Day not being set aside in our modern culture. Partly because I am convinced that we can celebrate and give thanks every day. Thanksgiving traditionally ushers in the Christmas shopping season.   I am understanding more of how our thanks can be transformed into giving. When we realize how much we already have, we can give of ourselves, our time, our concern and our compassion. We may even have material possessions to share with others, or extra money we can use to meet practical needs of food and warm clothing.

Perhaps this season finds you mourning the things that you do not have.  Still, I encourage you to find even one small thing  you can be thankful for.

May we be thankful people and from our thanks, may giving flow.

Abundance is… taking the time to notice!

Happy Thanksgiving!

DebbieSignature

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Go Together

Last week I saw the story of teenage hikers stranded out on the rocks on the Oregon Coast.

The rising tide had cut off their path back and high surf had cut out their options.  Three decided to try and swim back but friends looking on from the shore decided to join them in a human chain to rescue the ones on the rocks.

It is an accurate depiction of life. We really aren’t meant to go it alone. Unexpected dangers can leave us stranded. Without the help and encouragement of others we can lose our hope or lose our lives.

We have a number of friends in imminent danger. Multiple myeloma, cancer, heart problems and acute leukemia are just some of the rising tides threatening their lives. Talk to each one of them and they will tell you that the outpouring of love, prayers, well wishes, and extensions of friendship are what has gotten them through the darkest of days.

Most of us have been left stranded at some point in our lives by depression, overwhelming financial needs, or loss and abandonment on a variety of  levels. Discouragement, lack of hope, illness or weariness can catch up with us and isolate us, laying us flat upon the rocks.

Those of us fortunate enough to have family, and/or friends to come alongside and form that human chain of hope and encouragement, and ultimately the link to safety, know how valuable it is.

“The Good Lie” is a profound movie giving an account of “The Lost Boys” of Sudan during their civil war  in the 1980’s. It depicts their journey on foot of over a thousand miles through treacherous terrain to end up in a refugee camp, in hopes of being airlifted out. The movie follows one family, as they eventually make it to the United States.

At the end of that movie, this African Proverb appears on the screen:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We don’t get far on our own. It is imperative that we go together. Through life’s hardships, through the rough waters, through seemingly devastating and impossible situations. If you are relatively safe on the shore right now, I encourage you to jump in and extend your hand as a lifeline to someone who may feel like they are drowning. If your needs seem overwhelming, I encourage you to look up- away from the swirling tide and reach out. Grab on to the offer of help to get you to a safer place.

Ultimately, we have the promise of a Faithful and Mighty God to not only save us, but to never leave us or forsake us. He has promised that He is with us – always. With Him, we are never stranded.

Abundance is… Traveling Together With Him,

DebbieSignature

 

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Do the Cartwheel!

When it comes to evening television, there’s only one thing I make an appointment to watch: The Voice.  However, since it does not begin until next week, my daughter and I sat down to watch the season premiere of Dancing With the Stars on Monday night. I do not know half of the “stars” but still found it entertaining. What surprised me most was the moment of inspiration I experienced while watching!

Betsy Johnson, a 72 year old fashion designer, is one of the “stars.” I think we would all give her credit just for saying ‘Yes!’ and being out there at the age of 72. Her routine went terribly awry towards the end. The props became tangled and their dancing came to a halt. Before they could recover, the music ended. Instead of melting into a pile of tears or frustration, she did a cartwheel and went right into the splits! The audience was delighted and she was rewarded with enthusiastic applause, even though she eventually received the lowest score of the evening.

Lolo Jones is a 32 year old Olympic athlete. She was also one of the “stars.” A smaller glitch at the beginning of her routine, threw her off mentally and she was never quite able to recover. She was voted off the show after only one appearance.  In an interview today, she said she tries to learn the lessons that life serves her through her experiences. She explained that she was very angry and frustrated with herself. She went backstage, and spent the rest of the program trying not to cry and rehearsing in her mind what went wrong. She didn’t see any of the other couples perform. The lesson she took away? She missed it. It would be her only night to be on Dancing With the Stars and she missed being a part of the joy and the camaraderie because she  couldn’t stop sulking.

I have actually given a lot of thought to Betsy’s cartwheel/split combination and Lolo’s confession. I don’t want to miss the joy around me because I am recounting past failures, big or small, in my mind. The truth is, this may be our only day. None of us are promised another. I have a feeling Betsy understands that. It may be why she went right ahead on with the cartwheel and the splits. It is what she is {amazingly} able to do. It is what she had planned on doing. She was determined to do the one thing she KNEW she could do, with or without the music.

Each of us have different expectations for our own lives. The ‘dance’ may not go quite as we had planned. It is easy to compare ourselves or our lives to others. The truth is, as Ann Voskamp so beautifully writes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Each of us must live this one life as best we can. Can you give of your time? Share your food? Give someone a ride? Leave someone with a word of encouragement? Write the check? Share the smile? Offer the help? Can you lend your faith or hope or love or joy to a situation? We may think our contributions are insignificant. We may never know how much difference even the smallest kindness may have made in someone’s life. Whatever is in our means to do, is our ‘cartwheel!’ Let’s add it to our dance, share the joy and rest knowing  we did all we could in that moment.

Learning to Do Cartwheels With You,

DebbieSignature

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