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At the mall, I picked out three pairs of shoes and waited for the salesman to help me. It was a very busy day, and he caught my eye. “I’ll be right with you, ma’am,” he said, breathlessly.

“Don’t break your back,” I said.

He stopped in his tracks, dropping one of his boxes.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Know what?” I replied.

“That I broke my back. This is my first day back on the job.” He sat down, looking a bit ashen.

I sat down with him. “I honestly don’t know why I said that. But I … I think it means, pace yourself. You’re just finding your feet,” I said, as he laughed at the shoe pun.

We spoke for a few minutes and he went back to work, this time at a slightly slower step. He smiled over his shoulder and nodded good-bye.

I thought about the exchange. It was the first time in my life I had ever used the phrase, “don’t break your back.” If you think about it, it could be taken as sarcasm. I didn’t mean it that way – just that I wasn’t in a hurry.

It was such a small moment, but it made me think. How many times do I want to speak words of encouragement, of praise, of inspiration, and I hold myself back? What if they take it the wrong way? What if they just aren’t in the mood to hear it?

In a previous post, I wrote that I know I don’t have all the answers. What gives me the right to offer advice to anyone else?

It may well be that none of us has all the answers, but together, we can find a way to wend our way down the path of life.

Sometimes God puts words on your heart for a reason. It might be just the small sustenance someone needs to make it over that next hurdle.

Slow down and travel at Godspeed. Speak kindly to a stranger. Say it from the heart and you may end up making someone’s day.

nitish-meena-37745The little boy was three-years-old, and, apparently, his job was to examine all the minutiae of life very carefully, like a pint-sized forensic scientist  – gum wrapper on floor, display of succotash by the register, even his own shoelaces. It came as no surprise that he’d meander very slowly, like a sloth on a speed bump, out the door of the grocery store.

We were stacked up behind him and his adoring mother with our carts, our own kids in tow, but we were patient. He looked around, he lingered, he investigated. All the while his mother looked at him adoringly, as if he had invented time itself. “Isn’t he something?” she asked the lady waiting behind her, who nodded graciously.

When you love someone, you find a way to overlook their faults. It never occurred to this young mother that everyone else might not find her toddler’s molasses-slow stride to be endearing. Those things didn’t even register in her mind.

There’s been a lot of discord in the world lately, with those of different viewpoints finding themselves at odds. Sometimes it seems people are acting like petulant children, not hearing anyone else’s voice at all. I’ve been deep in Scripture lately, seeking some solace.

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Ecclesiastes 7:8 NIV

Keeping things in perspective, thinking about compassion and mercy.

You help them stay calm when trouble comes…

Every line of this Psalm gave me peace.

The Lord will not leave his people. He will not leave them without help.

Sometimes you find comfort in passages you’ve read a thousand times. Perhaps if we all read the Good Book and pray together, wherever we are, we’ll remember we’re all family.

Justice will return and bring fairness.  And those who want to do right will be there to see it. Psalm 94:13-15 ERV

Justice is not “just us.”
It’s everyone.
It’s every one
doing what that one can
and eventually, it is all of us, together.

So it really is just us. There is no “them.”
You and me again become we.

Step one: take one step.

Well, if you read the news these days, it’s discouraging, but there are still good people in the world doing positive things.

Like this flight attendant who saved one young girl from a sex trafficker and this tightrope walker who saved one man stuck in a ski lift.

These individuals didn’t save the whole world, they saved one person. Just one. But that one person really matters. To their friends, to their families. To God.

Both of these things happened in mid-air, so there was no other way to get help. Sometimes God puts a person uniquely equipped to save the day in exactly the right place.

We’ve all seen the protests, picket signs and caustic comments online. There are small pockets of positive resistance forming out there, waiting to connect with each other and spread peace instead of discord.

With all of the drama going on, that may be where the next groundswell sets in. Singular acts. Small gestures. Just you. Just me. Just us. Being neighborly. Keeping our words civil. Treating each other like extended family.

Hopefully, the next hashtag that catches on will be #JustUs. We’re all in this together, and there really is no Us Versus Them. We’re all “Us.” U.S. We all live here. We all belong here. We don’t all have to agree, but we can get along if we all agree to try.

Even aliens – and by that I mean, from outer space – should be treated humanely. The other type of “alien” doesn’t really exist. We all came from somewhere else. Now we’re here.

Post-election, my vote is to get past this ugly chapter and get on with the “one nation under God” thing. It’s time to put aside those weaponized words and meet each other as human beings with healing hearts. Somebody’s got to take the first step.

hv5plutrkci-anthony-delanoix

There have been very few times in my life when I’ve actually been speechless.

But something happened over the weekend that defies words. In fact, it defies logic. Humanity. The bounds of decency.

President Trump wrote an Executive Order banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries.

This seems like the action of someone out to prove a point. Perhaps he was irked by the recent women’s marches or fired up about his contention that the popular vote was rigged to make it seem as if most of the country voted against him.

Just as it’s never a good idea to discipline your children when you’re out-of-control with rage, it’s not prudent to issue edicts on the spur-of-the-moment and without knowing all of the facts.

As we all adjust to this new reality – the “reality” of “alternate facts” and grudge matches between officials with the power to declare war on countries and on whole groups of human beings – I’m gaining strength from great gurus, such as our own SueBE and Lori, and I’m meditating on their wise words.

Taking solace in this quote from FDR:

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

Enjoying the irony in these words from John Steinbeck:

“My whole family has been having trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country.”

Nodding in agreement with the wisdom of Margaret Mead:

“The discrepancy between American ideals and American practice — between our aims and what we actually do — creates a moral dry rot which eats away at the foundations of our democratic faith.”

And leaving you with these words from an Enlightened Encourager, the great Mother Teresa:

“The more I traveled, the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.”

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

earyikg21d4-maja-petricIn the news lately, we’ve been hearing about people committing awful acts of terror, and this term seems to come up more often than not: “self-radicalized.”

It might be more accurate to call it “metastasized.” Something incompatible to life taking root at the cellular level.

I’ve noticed that this word isn’t applied to everyone equally.

We don’t call these two grandmas in a shoot-out at Wal-Mart “radicalized.”

In most cases, the term is used when speaking of Muslims involved in violent acts, but I think it could be applied to people of any race, gender or religion who feel disenfranchised.

That being said, I still believe that most of the world’s population is comprised of peaceful, law-abiding people. Of course, there are some exceptions, but there are still many reasons to be hopeful about life.

God’s grace is still the oxygen of the universe.

Here’s what buoys my spirits.

To know that there are people like this four-year-old who read a thousand books and was made Librarian for a Day at the Library of Congress is like a vitamin for the soul.

To know that this elderly lady in distress dialed a wrong number and it turned out to be a police detective who stayed on the line to help her is evidence of Providence at work.

To know that these stray dogs in Turkey were given shelter at a mall by kind-hearted locals during a snowstorm warmed my heart.

To know that young and old can connect, as this 82 year old man found out when a 4 year old said, “hi, old person, can I have a hug?” brought a tear to my eye.

What if we took back ownership of the word, “radicalized,” and used it in the spirit spoken of by Dr. King?

We might self-radicalize toward full-scale compassion. Mobilize in the direction of brazen kindness. Maybe if we open our hearts and reach out our arms, we’d find we could embrace the whole world.

l8a9vhn6pje-gabriel-piThe one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
those who help others are helped.
Proverbs 11:25 (MSG)

Waiting in the lobby of the doctor’s office for my appointment, I noticed an elderly gentleman walking in the door. He stopped, squared his shoulders and set his chin. It occurred to me, Something is about to happen.

Marching over to the front desk, he waved a paper at the receptionist.

“You people did it again! Tried to bill me twice. But I’m onto you. You won’t get another DIME from me!”

The receptionist said, “I’m sorry about that sir, but if I can direct you to call our billing department, which is at another location….”

The angry man turned on his heel and noticed someone he knew. “Hiya, Tom,” his friend said. “Having an issue with the billing?” The man said, “Yeah, I had to give them a piece of my mind. Sometimes you have to show them you’re not gonna take their BS!”

Proud as punch, he swaggered out; still, he didn’t get his problem resolved. He’d refused to listen to the woman trying to tell him how to address it, and he was still as tightly-coiled as a cobra.

Not exactly one for the “Win” column.

You can berate, raise a ruckus, and cause a stir, or you can represent yourself and your faith in a memorable, mindful, mature way. Really, you can’t do both. There is a clear choice, every day. Navigating sticky situations with compassion. Showing the world your character, even as others lower the bar. Outreach instead of outrage. Tact instead of attack.

A new approach might be to “Bless-tify.” To testify about your faith by treating everyone with respect, even reverence – especially when emotions are running high.

“Blessing” is both a noun and a verb. The beauty of it is that you can give it and receive it at the same time. You’ll find yourself walking in the same spirit of love that changed your life when it really mattered. The saying goes, “Think before you speak,” or to put it another way, Pray Before you Say.

no-sign

Luckily, I heard the words in my head before they made it out of my mouth, blocking them at the very last moment – like a “No-You-Don’t!” Ninja.

This is what I almost said to an acquaintance: “‘Course it’s her own fault. Can’t drink like a fish and smoke like a chimney and think you’ll dodge the bullet forever!”

A dear friend was sick in the hospital and I was concerned about her, so of course, I tore her down in my own mind and nearly engaged in a form of germ warfare. Because, truthfully, such words are toxic, even infectious.

It may well be that we judge others to deflect the spotlight from our own unchecked boxes.

◘ Never finished that college degree
◘ Never got that promotion
◘ Never found that soul mate

Perhaps we feel so small in a vast universe that we subconsciously seek to squash others – like bugs on the sidewalk in our way, when we could easily step around them – that we steamroller over their humanity, their beauty, their divinity, and focus solely on the things they failed to do.

We do the math in our heads and assume that we can subtract from others while adding to ourselves. It really doesn’t work that way. It detracts from us both. From us all.

If I were to say anything, it should be something like this.

You’ve been through so much in your life, and I’ve long admired your determination. You’ve watched out for me like family from the minute I moved into the neighborhood. If there’s anything I can do to encourage you to take steps to improve your health so I can have you around as a friend for many years to come, I’ll be here for you.  

There’s only one surefire way to safeguard your soul and clear the air pollution of thoughtless comments: put a spiritual Ad-Blocker on your words.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Proverbs 16:24 NIV

CJ Craig: “Mr. President, I hate to ask you this…”

President Bartlet: “Not too late to stop yourself.”

Dialogue from TV series, The West Wing

It’s always a red flag when someone says, “I hate to say this,” or “To be brutally frank,” before they give an opinion.

A friend noticed I’d gotten new glasses. He cocked his head and said, “You really want to know my honest opinion?” That didn’t bode well, so I said, “No.” He told me anyway. “I don’t think they’re the right shape for your face.”

Fie!

I had to un-follow a blog about faith that I really enjoyed when the blogger wrote, “I hate to say this, but let a gay kid in high school get beaten up a few times and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.”

Well.

I hate to say this, but to be brutally frank, that’s not inspirational. That’s hateful.

Imagine someone saying, “Let a Christian kid in high school get beaten up a few times, and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.” Or a Jewish kid. Or a Muslim kid. Or any kid, especially one of your own children.

Why is it some people think that others need to hear a negative opinion that nobody asked for? Do they just like to rain on parades? I wonder what they get out of being a chronic bubble-burster.

I love the way this passage from Ephesians is phrased: “…Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Speak to one another with psalms. At the same time, sing to the Lord. Is it possible to do both? It is, when we remember that when we speak to anyone, we’re talking to a beloved child of God – a prince or princess, if you will. That should make it easy to speak with tact and grace. Kindness and compassion.

Sweet as honeycomb.

“Are you a teacher?”

The Uber driver had looked at me in the rearview and asked the question.

“No, but everybody asks me that. Must be the cat’s eye glasses,” I said. “I did teach ESL years ago.”

“Really? How’s my English?” he asked.

“Not bad,” I said.

“I’ve only been here four years and I’m always trying to improve my English.”

“You’re doing fine,” I told him.

He said, “It’s more important than ever to blend in. Trump is making my life harder.” He felt the difference in the last year in the way people look at him, talk to him. “They think I’m here to cause chaos. I’m just trying to feed my family, y’know?”

Just like everybody else.

Last week in the news, police in Nice, France, were filmed forcing a Muslim woman wearing a burkini to disrobe on the beach while other sunbathers watched. A person on the scene said that some even applauded. A local official said that if people don’t feel safe, or are offended by someone’s outfit, it needs to be addressed. It’s a risk to public order, he said.

Thong bikinis and speedos are okay, but a fully-covered woman is a public crisis.

But what I want to know is this: what’s the difference between a burkini and a scuba suit?

Everybody has biases. One of mine concerns t.v. reporters wearing casual clothes. It seems every female reporter is wearing a tank dress to show her toned arms, and every male reporter on a news scene is wearing skinny jeans. You’d think they just came from a nightclub!

Of course, I know it’s just a matter of taste, and it’s my own hang-up. No need to hassle them, as happened when this weather reporter was told while live on-the-air that she needed to cover herself up.

Just as the Uber driver profiled me as a teacher, we can choose to view others through the filter of faith. Ah! Another blessed, beloved child of God on the road of life.

And maybe, just for today, the fashion police can take the day off.

Oh! So Your Phone Does Still Work Image

By the time I eventually moseyed over for a visit, my mother would have at the ready some carefully curated quotes, knowing full well that, as soon as I arrived, I’d be planning my exit.

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail,” she’d tell me, nodding. “What’s past is prologue!”

I would just shrug, which only led her to say:

“Youth is wasted on the young!”

She’d throw a Latin phrase my way and, like the former teacher that she was, expect me to respond with the correct answer.

“Panacea?” she’d demand.

“Cure-all,” I’d respond dutifully.

“Gallia est omnis divisa…?” she’d tilt her head at me.

“…in partes tres,” I’d say, barely stifling a yawn.

She’d share her pet conspiracy theories as well. “Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s works,” she’d exclaim, even as I tuned her out. “Known fact!”

After I left home, I could barely get through a visit with my mother. She smoked like a chimney. She’d stockpile every bit of bad news and tale of woe to aim at me, like a missile full of misery. I didn’t realize until later that it was her way of trying to prepare and protect me from things that might go wrong. “Forewarned is forearmed!” she’d say, finger jabbing the air.

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After her passing, I learned that, no matter how old you are, when your parents pass away, you feel as if you’ve lost your moorings. Looking back on old, poor-quality photographs, you realize that your mother had a whole life before you were even born, and now that she’s gone, you ‘ll never get to hear those stories.

Dear readers, if you’re lucky enough to still have your mother in your life, I’d like to gently and gingerly nudge you to spend time with her while you have the chance.

Heck, I think I’ll come at you like the
New Jersey Mama Bear that I am, and say it like this:
So, what, it would kill you to call the mother who gave you life? 🙂

Coffee and cake at a cafe′ once a year on Mother’s Day are all well and good. Being fully present and hearing with your heart? Priceless.

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