Sunday, December 16, 2012

prayer for a community at a loss for words

Oh Unknowable Author of Mystery,

We cry out to you
in shock and sadness
anger and doubt
We do not understand
what appears to be
the absence of your Love
in the murder of twenty innocent children
and the loving adults who cared for them
or the trauma their classmates, colleagues, and families
are now experiencing

We are heartbroken for all of them.

We don’t know what to do!

Some of us feel like powerless children
eyes wide, hands in the air
just hoping for a reason
to feel safe
Some of us feel like worried parents
who just want to do something
to make everything “all better”
Some of us feel a wish to be leaders
to make laws or create programs
in an attempt to prevent any more loss

But – we all know
as individuals
we are powerless

We are unable to prevent loss.
We are unable to make it all better.
As individuals, we are powerless
to create safety for all of the children in our care.

That’s why we are here
against all of our doubts
that You – the Power
of Universal Love
You – the Unseen Friend to All
You – the Holy Glue
that somehow brings us together
even in our diversity of stories
about who You are and who you are not
We beg You – Love – to connect us now.

Bring us a clarity in our Oneness
as the Human Family
that allows us
to think together
to work compassionately
and thoroughly and wisely
to create safety and well-being
for all of us.
We commit ourselves to each other
–despite our differences–
to love each other
to help each other
We commit ourselves
to asking for help.

We commit ourselves
to creating safety
in each personal interaction
so that people who are deeply hurting
and scared
can find the help that is needed

We commit ourselves to Love

We are thankful
for the light of community.
We are thankful
to be alive
to have each other
and to know Love works.

We ask
for comfort
for hope
for peace
and for wisdom.

Let it be so.

(c)2012 Barbara L. Walker, Morgantown WV
written for a candlelight vigil for the children of Sandy Hook

for all who have lost a child, or the dream of a child, 
in whatever way the child was lost
your pain may have been triggered by this event

for leaders, official and otherwise, please start with this story

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Letting God Out of the Box

If I were a preacher, this is the sermon I would give tomorrow.

How did you learn about homosexuality?  Where did you get your ideas about it?  What is your first memory of knowing someone who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer?  

Here is how I learned about it.  When I was a teenager, I went to fanatical evangelical churches (only-one-way-to-god types). Most of the things I learned went something like this:  someone in leadership would say that something was a sin according to the Bible. They would throw a couple verses out. And that was it. We did not have conversations with anyone who had had any experience in that realm, or any expertise on the behavior, or any knowledge about the cultural and historical context of these verses. We just accepted the leadership's definitions of what was black and what was white. Mormonism, I was told, is a cult. Homosexuality is a sin. Sex outside of marriage, a sin. Abortion, murder. Et cetera. I took on a lot of beliefs that kept me sheltered from the stories of people living their lives. I spent most of my time with people who went to my church.  When we moved, we found a church right away and got immersed in that community, and spent most of our time with people in that church.

When I was in my second year of college, I encountered a professor who was openly gay. I had heard about "homosexuals" from people who went to churches like mine, vague references, no real information, just negative references.  Anita Bryant-like rants.  I had never knowingly talked to any one who was gay or read any books written by anyone gay.  But here I was in 1980, 19 years old, deciding to change my major to Acting because I wanted to do Christian Theater, encountering an openly gay person for the first time in my life.  At some point outside of class, the professor and I got into a conversation in which I was unable to listen. All I could do was spout my own position, and in so many words, I told him he was going to hell. (My 20-yr-old arrogance boggles my 51-yr-old mind!)

About ten years later, I had learned how to listen to people's stories, how to suspend my judgement, how to trust the little voice inside me that said "something isn't right with this thing this church leader is telling me." I had encountered some tough life decisions that humbled me. I had experienced judgement from close friends and family members.  I experienced people telling me I was going to hell for things I had come to know, deeply, were true in my life. 

I started learning about the cultural and historical context in which the Bible was written.  I started learning about sexism and other oppressions, and how oppression works.  I met some lesbian women and not felt the need to judge them. So they became my friends.  They did not convert me, they did not tell me how wrong I was to love a man, they did not live lives of depravity.  They were regular people. (Surprise!) They were kind.  And fun.  And courageous. I realized that some people in this world are born gay, and that is not a flaw or a sin. And some people choose it for themselves, and that is not a sin either.

If you listen to people's life stories, without judgement - really listen, find out what makes them tick, and what their struggles are, and why they made the tough decisions in their unique life - you may find that everyone is doing the best they can with what they've got. All of us are flawed human beings just trying to love and be loved. 

I believe this:  there is no sin bigger than the sin of thinking I get to decide who is going to hell based on my limited little brain inside my one tiny little head. 

God is not our puppet. God is Lovingkindness, embodied only in our bodies, flawed as they are. How we human beings on this earth treat other human beings is how God loves us all. God is not pleased when we point our fingers and tell other people they are sinning. God is only pleased when we embrace other human beings, when we love them, when we are kind to them, when we treat them with respect, and when we trust them to make their decisions based on how they hear God speaking in their hearts. 

You may not believe these things. You may believe that God, the Supreme Being, the Holy of Holies, tells you to go tell people they are sinners and there is only one way, one set of words, one set of rules, one set of beliefs that will make up for that fact (save them from it) and get them to Heaven.  I am trying very hard not to judge you for that. I can't change this about you. If you want to hang on to that belief, nothing I tell you is going to convince you not to hang on to it. I can tell you that I have been there.  I can tell you I have changed. And here is my good news, if you are interested:  choosing non-judgement works so much better than choosing God-told-me-to-tell-you judgement.  I have been a much more powerful witness for Love since I have let go of that kind of evangelism. People have told me I inspire them to be a better person. That never happened to me when I was being Evangelical.  No-one was ever inspired by me to open their hearts to God or to be a better person by my telling them about their sins.

Everyone is going to make mistakes, everyone screws up, and it is not for us to say what is a mistake and what is not, except in our very own lives. Sure, if someone hurts you, you have every right to tell them, "when you did this thing, I felt hurt, because..." But you don't get to say to someone whose choice has no real effect on your life at all that their choice is a sin. You sure as heck don't have the right to codify your belief into the rule of law. If you call yourself a Christian, if you honor Jesus, then look at the way he lived.  He didn't go around telling people they were gong to hell.  He hung out with the lowest of the low and he LOVED them.  He fed them.  He healed them.  He did not get in their face and tell them how wrong they are.  He did not pronounce judgement upon them every chance he had.  Even the Pharisees, the leaders of his religious community into which he was born? He basically just asked them thoughtful questions.  The one theme I see in the gospels is this: love. Be love. Love, the verb.  The command: Love!

Jesus said, "If you are bothered by a speck in your neighbor's eye, remove the stick from your own eye." So, next time you are tempted to tell someone what they are doing wrong, look in the mirror. Don't worry about other people's problems. Figure out where you are making bad choices that separate you from Love and keep you from being Kind.

I'm so grateful for the courageous people who stand up and tell their stories in the face of judgement. Without that courage, without that sharing, the world can't change.  People cannot learn.  Oppression cannot end. My memory of that conversation with my professor is one of my biggest regrets in my life. It was one of my biggest sins. I hope he knew that his sharing with me, even though I could not listen, was a seed of liberation planted. 

If someone is telling you that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, I beg you to read this before you go around spreading that "good news."

And, in the interest of breaking down stereotypes and planting seeds of liberation, I am offering to you my story. Next time we see each other, let's have some tea and blueberry muffins and tell each other our life stories.  I promise to listen.  I promise to be kind to you.



Friday, October 12, 2012

My friend, Karen, is cancer-free.  Read her journey here.

What if we all loved and supported each other this way all the time?  The world would be cancer-free, literally and figuratively.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

a prayer answered

Big losses can lead to big freedom, if you open your eyes to possibility and let go of your many assumptions that have kept you safe and secure (at some level). When you find yourself grieving, before you try to "get back to normal," consider sitting in the discomfort of abnormal. From this vantage point, you can see a lot of different paths forward from your current state of life which you could not see before you lost so much normal. What do you want now? When you are in a place of deep sadness, you might be able to find the exact answer(s) to this question. You have a bunch of coping/thriving skills you developed for the situation you used to be in... they aren't necessarily bad or harmful, they were what worked for what used to be your normal. But, to go forward, you might need to let those go, and create new skills that work for the new life you are creating. Loss is the Divine's gift to us: a chance to see Life in its true preciousness, a chance to re-create our lives in a whole different way. Without death, nothing could ever be new, nothing could ever be ALIVE.
 I asked the mysterious Spirit of Joy where the heck she can be found, and she said one word: create.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Creating instead of Consuming

Short story:  I lost our Fitness Improvement Competition at work.  It was just for fun with a little money on the line, so no big deal.  Except that for three months I really tried to lost some weight and I didn't.  Not that weight matters that much, but it is one easily measurable indicator of fitness.  It's the trend I was not liking... gaining five pounds a year doesn't sound like much until you think about what that means: it means fifty pounds by my sixtieth birthday. Ack!!!

The week after I lost at losing, I decided to make a daily walk my top priority.  Yes.  Priority number one each day is to get my body moving.  So after the kids are off to school, Laird and I take the dogs for a three-mile walk on the rail trail.  Yes, it means I am late to work.  So I work late.  Which works way better than getting to work early, coming home to not-exercise because it is dinner time, then not-exercise because I just had dinner, then not-exercise because it is too close to bedtime.

So, we have walked every day since mid-February. We're happier, the dogs are happier, we're healthier, and we get more couple time.  Walking... it's not just for the mailbox anymore.

Also, in January, I read the book 7 and got inspired to confront overconsumption in my life.  I asked the questions, and made my own plan because my life is way different than Jen Hatmaker's life.

Month 1 was Possessions.  I wanted to get rid of seven things a day, but I don't have a book deal; I still have to work a full-time job while I am confronting overconsumption.  So, I spent weekends de-cluttering.  I am still working on actually getting rid of some of the stuff I weeded out. (Stay tuned for a list of items I am giving away.)  But hey, I haven't bought much at all since then just because I am more aware of the overabundance of stuff I don't use in my house.  Also, I decreased my Overfunctioning.  Just needed to be done, so I added it in to month 1.  I will need to re-visit this effort, of course, because, like stuff, overfunctioning seems to creep back into my life whenever I am not consciously keeping it at bay.

Month 2 was Food.  I dropped sugar, chocolate, coffee, and alcohol.  Well, I intended to.  I knew sugar would be hardest, so I set my mind on that, and ended up cheating on coffee and chocolate a little bit, and pretty much ignoring my idea of skipping alcohol.  It's not that I drink that much wine and beer (average one to two glasses a week).  I just wanted to skip the things that might have been zapping my energy level and see how it feels live on goodness.  Well, it felt good.  I slept better, I felt better, I worked better.  Now, keep in mind, all this time I was also walking three miles every morning, so it might have mostly been about that.  Still, I've done some research, and here you go:  fructose is poison.  And sucrose is half fructose.  And almost everything I used to eat had one or both in them.  In excess.  So, if I avoid refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, I pretty much have a diet of real food.  Veggies, fruit, meat, eggs, and cheese.  And a little milk.  And butter.  I can deal... I eat LOTS of veggies and a couple of pieces of fruit a day.  I eat happy (free-range, local, drug-free) meat from our freezer and free range eggs from the co-op.  I substitute perfectly ripe avocados for chocolate. Not local, but hey, I'm working on it.  I substitute tea with a little milk and honey in it for my latte.  And I substitute bread from New Day Bakery for everything else I used to eat.  And I eat Triscuits with chevre.  Yum.  So, March was not that bad.

So, I rewarded myself with home-made brownies on April 1.  Yes, I missed brownies.  And I found creme fraiche at Kroger, oh my goodness.  We had some with berries for our Famiversary dinner dessert, and I wanted to know what to do with the rest, so I looked on the website for recipes.  And found brownies.  But, the recipe called for 16 ounces of butter and 8 ounces of creme fraiche.  That would make a biglotta brownies.  So, I cut the recipe in half.  And in half again. And substituted some things. And changed some quantities. And added something.  And they turned out to be really yummy.  So perfectly between cakey and fudgey that they were not either. They didn't look like the ones in the recipe at Vermont Creamery.

I would post a picture, but they have been completely devoured. 

Barbara's Once-a-Month Brownies

Pre-heat oven to 300 F.  Grease an 8x8 glass pan.
Melt 1.5 ounces (three squares - it was all I had of the Precious) Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate (I think... maybe it was the extra bittersweet) with a stick of butter in a double boiler and allow to cool.  Whisk 2 eggs with a little more than a cup of coconut crystals (sugar), a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract, a quarter teaspoon of almond extract (I spilled so it was more like a half teaspoon), and 2 ounces of creme fraiche. (Definitely lick the spoon here since you are only doing this once a month, darling.)  Mix until incorporated.  Fold half the chocolate/butter mixture into the egg/sugar mixture.  Then 1/3 cup flour.  Then the rest of the choc/butter.  Then another 1/3 cup flour.  Do not overmix. If you want, add some chocolate chips (about 3 ounces).  Bake for about 40 minutes.  Cool.  Cut into squares.

I eat mine with butter on top.  Yes, for real.  That's what we did in the Walker family, but it was blue bonnet margarine (which was probably not the same product it is now) that my mom called butter.  When I found out that no-one else in the whole wide world eats butter on top of their brownies, I was aghast.  Now that I would eat dry toast (from my favorite bakery) rather than put blue bonnet on it, I eat even more butter on top of my brownies.  I know. It doesn't make sense.  But, my love of butter has been exonerated in Dr. Lustig's video, Sugar: the Bitter Truth.  Calories are not the problem.  Fat is not the problem  It's sugar.  Namely, fructose.  So, month 2 has been a huge step towards health for me.  Even if I do put butter on my already rich once-a-month brownies.

Month 3:  April was supposed to be about getting moving... about ending my overconsumption of couch potatoness.  I was planning to put in at least 49 miles a week of walking or biking.  But, since I started walking three miles a day, and I ride my bike to work at least once a week (21+18=39, close enough), April needed a new focus.  And so, I introduce to you: Month 3, the month of Sleep.  I will sleep more and grouch less.  Go to bed at or before 10:30.  So far, I have been a dismal failure.

It turns out that my overconsumption (stuff, food, waste, etc) did not need to be addressed as much as my underconsumption (veggies, movement, sleep)... does that make any sense?

By the way, I have lost over eight pounds in six weeks. 
(I didn't even do that last year training for running a 5K.)
Walk three miles a day and drop the refined sugar. Boom.

Friday, March 30, 2012

I parent teens. What's your superpower?

Came across this question... Privileges for Teens from Hard Places
How do you find the balance of allowing older children and teens from “hard places” to have freedoms/privileges when they haven’t shown the same level of respect  that you would expect from your other children?

My response was too long for the comment box.  LOL. So here it is.

We struggle with this a lot.  We have three youngsters who have been with us for three years, ages 13, 13 and 11.  I have three older children, but only one is at home, age 17, and super easy-going. 
Our 13-yr-old daughter has thought she should have the same privileges as the 17-yr-old from the very beginning (when they were 10 and 14), and has thrown many stubborn fits because of that.  We really haven't found a way to get her to the point of accepting that she is not an adult yet.  So, we have a lot of important conversations about responsibility and privilege.  At present, she is grounded for lying to us about the movie that was slated for an overnight party to which she was invited.  Therefore, she is working really hard to earn back the privilege of going to see her favorite aunt and uncle for a few days at spring break.  We find that when they have something to work for in their minds, they are more attentive to behaving well and treating people with respect and kindness. In other words, working to gain privileges is a better motivator than the threat of losing privileges. 
Our 13-yr-old son, her twin, acts out in different ways, but he too feels he does not need us to teach him anything or even to keep him alive and well.  He knows all.  He has a really hard time accepting help in any way, and will shift into defiance mode at the smallest trigger that indicates he actually does need help.  His acting out was way worse three years ago, and with patience and endless explaining of actions leading to consequences (lost privileges), he has learned a lot.  He has the hardest time when he hasn't eaten enough, and when math is involved. 
The 11-yr-old was the easiest in the beginning, but he has really started expressing his anxiety and anger lately with very rude and demanding comments, and not listening, and not doing as he is told.  We have found that the three of them have different triggers and different ways of trying to gain power, but that it is all about habits of thought and a whole lot of anxiety due to the losses and hardships they have endured.  So, we try to address the thought habits and the anxiety. 
We have found that writing helps them figure things out so whenever they lose privileges, and have work added to make amends for wrong-doing, we also sometimes ask them to write in their journals about the issue.  (We have also often had "a letter of apology" as one consequence for acts of disrespect and hurtful behavior.)  They start out writing from their anger and survivial brain, but slowly, the urge to explain their side moves them into their cognitive brain. 
We do try to give them some power of choice around following through with their consequences. For example, if their behavior interferes with everyone else and we send them to their room, they are allowed to come back when they are ready to treat people kindly.  Or when they have a list of things to do to make amends, they can choose in what order to do them.  My aim is to empower, so even when I have to hold a boundary by taking away privileges, I try to help them see get in touch with their personal power.
All of this takes time.  So, I have learned to be okay with missing events or being late to events in the name of good therapeutic parenting practices.  My friends know this, and my boss does, too.  Love and healing are the priority in my life.  (I'm even getting better at taking the time to love and heal myself!)
My husband and I have had the most success when we have kept ourselves calm and strong in our commitment to what we call Constant Vigilance.  (Oh my goodness, of course, there are moments this does not happen! We all have triggers, people!)  One part of CV parenting (to coin a new term?) is giving frequent positive comments of appreciation when someone is doing good things, like catching themselves in a rude remark and backing up or asking for something with a kind voice or expressing a difficult feeling in a respectful way.  We had to teach them how to do these things and it took a lot of repetition.   Another part of this kind of parenting is intolerance of disrespect.  We try to catch the issues when they are just starting.  We've taught our kids they can change their minds, they can choose a better attitude; they can drop a rude tone of voice or stubborn stance like they can drop a pencil.  We taught (and re-teach on a regular basis) about triggers, habits, survival strategies, and coping versus thriving.  We praise them for having the smarts to come up with ways to feel powerful while living in a children's home for five years, and remind them that those strategies don't work in a family.  I offer choices and I try to give them ways to save face. 
It is parenting out loud... sometimes we talk through our own thought processes.  "Wow, I'm really annoyed by this big mess in the kitchen.  I wanted to come in the door and make some yummy food, but now I have to clean up somebody else's mess first.  Man, I just want to scream and have a tantrum.  But, that won't get me any closer to having food in my belly.  So, I think I will ask for some help with clean-up, and write a note to remind people about putting stuff away and wiping up."  (Yeah, someday, even I will be able to calmly respond to a kitchen mess.)
The funky mind tricks can last for hours and hours, but I just keep on stating the expectation and the privileges at stake.  But sometimes, when he is really stuck, I have to get creative.  I put some music on, gently stand behind my stubborn child, and hold his hands while we put the dishes away together.  I move his body slowly along, and tell him that making mistakes and being told what to do are not things that mean he is less, or that he is stupid.  Needing help and being told what to do mean this: You have a family.  You have a family who can help you and you can help your family.  There are millions of children in this world who don't have a family, and want one, and you have one, just like you wanted.  So, here we are.  Then I just sing along with the music, as we put the dishes away, and slowly he starts using his muscles to pick up the silverware and open the drawer.  And I make playful sword moves at the air with the butter knives, and gently blow his face with the baster, showing him that doing a chore can be fun.  And he smiles.  And he relaxes.  And he breaks through the fog of resistance, into the light of acceptance.  That's when we can talk about what he needs to do to earn privileges and freedom.
I don't pull the orphan card very often.  It wouldn't be fair.  But once in a while, it helps them to remember that they are living the reality of their fervant wish being granted. It turns out I, too, need to remember that having them in my life was once my fervant wish, now granted.
They are smart kids.  They learn fast.  They want to learn.  They just need lots of help understanding their own minds and how to harness their own power. Didn't we all need that?  Don't we all wish we would have been given the gift of understanding how our minds work?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Celebrations as Triggers

One of the things I wish I had known when I brought my children home from Ethiopia is that speical events would be a major trigger for our kids for the first year they were home.  A special event is something out of routine:  any holiday or event or celebration that people get excited about or put time into preparing for or talk about ahead of time.
I first clued into this when it was time for school photos.  No big deal, right?  It's just a picture.  "Dress up a little today because they are going to take your pictures at school."  Well, several stubborn fits and one all-out meltdown leading up to this event got me thinking.  Oh, the times they had photos taken at the children's home, they were told to smile nice and a family might choose them.  Or something like that.  When it was picture time, I'm sure all the kids were full of anxiety about whether they would ever have a family. 
Valentine's Day - anything the teachers and kids at school talked about as a future event - sent my kids into Anxietyville.  They didn't know what to expect, they could sense that these things were not ordinary things, and they were out of routine.  At the children's home, knowing what was coming next (routine) was one of the few comforts they had.  Surprises, even good ones, were not good.  When they don't know what to expect, there is a little part of their broken hearts that says "hey, this is what it felt like when they put us in a car and sent us to KM and our whole world turned upside-down" or "hey, this is what it felt like when mom died" or "hey, this is what it felt like when we got on the plane and left everything we knew."  It would be enough to make me want to hurl.  But my kids have learned the survival skill of "appearing to have it together."  The "keep it under control" coping mechanism is well-honed in these three.  So, when their anxiety bubbles up to overflow, it comes out as misbehavior. Bossing people around.  Stubborn refusal to do what is asked.  Explosive frustration.  Stomping aways muttering under their breath or screaming "I hate this family!"
So, I learned to sit them down and talk through the event, what might happen, what kinds of feelings they might encounter, what kinds of food there might be, what people usually do, what people usually say, why people do these things.  I let them know how not a big deal it is.  I think of everything I might have worried about when I was 10 or 11 and try to prepare them for that.  I remind them that they are safe, and loved, and this thing is just for fun, or it is to honor and respect someone, and here are the good manners you'll need.  I tell them ways to make it fun.  I tell them we've got their back.
I've come to understand that almost every time one of my kids is misbehaving, it is because they are worried about something.  Medical procedures, trips in the car, visits to people we don't know, someone coming to visit.  Everything that is not routine. Everything that makes them think maybe they don't have any control over the situation. 
They have been home for almost three years now.  Last week, we attended my dad's memorial service.  Laird coached them a lot in the car on the way to Pennsylvania. Rediet has some "selfish brat" moments in the morning, but nothing huge.  At the service, they were respectful, they participated, they had feelings and sought comfort, and they listened.  They were amazing.  My dad would be proud.
(Tonight, I'll add the video of the 18 grandkids tribute to their granddad.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My dad is gone

Patrick Henry Walker, Sr. died peacefully at home with his loved ones early Wednesday morning, January 18, 2012. He went to join his beloved granddaughter Anna Walker, great-niece Lona Nadal, and daughter-in-law Sue Walker who have been busy getting a party in Heaven ready for him. Pat was an excellent and gentle husband, and a good father.  

Pat was born on April 14, 1931 in Hazelton, PA to Henry and Mary (Lantzy) Walker. He grew up in Hazelton, attended and volunteered at Camp Keller, and worked in Conyngham Valley as a youngster. A wonderful man named Chauncey who worked at the YMCA mentored him. He belonged to the swimming and basketball teams and graduated from Hazelton Senior High School in 1949. He served as a Dental Assistant in the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1955 in Bainbridge, MD.  He married Joann Marian Hoover in 1954 and enjoyed throwing his kids in the air and teaching them to swim as they grew up. He provided for his family as a draftsman and an entrepreneur. He graduated from Penn State York with an Associate degree in Computer Science in 1971.  He enjoyed music, swimming, magic tricks, genealogy, and computers. He made some great peanut butter fudge using a recipe he was given by his Aunt Helen. During the last year of his life he made four beautiful quilts. He was a man of integrity and a devoted son, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and friend.

Pat is survived by his wife of 58 years, Joann; and their six children and their partners:  Patrick and Kathy, Michael and Libby, Cynthia and Bruce, Jennifer and Dutch, Barbara and Laird, and Ron and Tami. He is survived by eighteen grandchildren (and partners):  Rebekah, Brandy and John, Matthew and Tabitha, Nikole, Daniel and Sally, Maille, Jake and Angele, Nick and Allison, Jessica, Ben, Tegan, Jordan, Helen, Rediet, Abel, Amanda, Alli, Holly; and seven great grandchildren:  Ryan, Christopher, Winter, Lucien, Juliette, Rolan, and Walker. He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Jesse, and her family:  Ana and Jason and their daughter, Maxine; Nevin; and Elyse.

Pat was inspired by the Four Chaplains to donate his body to medical science. The family greatly appreciates White Rose Hospice for their amazing and invaluable care and attention. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to White Rose Hospice, 1412 Sixth Ave., York, PA 17403.  A memorial service will be held at 2 pm, Saturday, January 21, 2012 at the Holiday Inn, 400 Loucks Road, York, PA.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How to Change the World

It's easier to be overcome with compassion fatigue if you're paying any attention at all to world news. Or rather, 'misery-at-realizing-the-ineffectiveness-of-our-range-of-responses fatigue.'  (Seriously, if you ever feel overwhelmed with the state of the world, take some time to read the article at the other end of that link.)  Even if you limit your intake to national news, there are a whole lot of problems out there to which you could apply the small amounts of time and money you are able to devote to helping.  It's hard to imagine that anything you might be able to do as an individual could have a real effect on improving conditions in a asignificant way even if you could pick just one issue on which to focus your aid.  Even doing something really big, like adopting three kids, can seem like a drop in the bucket when you look at the big picture, like millions of orphans worldwide.

So, I'd like to share my strategy for dealing with helplessness fatigue. 

Step 1. Create your Life Guidelines.  Your personal mission statement. Your bottom line.  Whatever you want to call it.  Keep it simple.  One to three short statements that sum up why you are here on this earth.   Your life guidelines may change over time.  You don't have to capture your purpose perfectly.  Spend no more than half an hour crafting your statements.  Distill all your ideas down into a simple statement, or paragraph if you must, and try it on for a while.  You can always revisit it later and change it. 

For a long time, my bottom line was simply the verse Micah 6:8 (my post-colonialist inclusive adaptation of NRSV) : "God has told you, O Mortal, what is good and what Love requires of you: but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Here's my latest, created on my drive to work yesterday in a matter of five minutes. 

Step 2.  Decide how much time and money you have to use to make the world better.  There are lots of ways you can come up with a number for these two factors (see bonus activity below).  And it is okay if the time factor is two hours and the money factor is zero. Or if the time factor is zero and the money factor is $10 a month.   It really depends on your circumstances.  You have something to give.  This is what matters.  Don't let your belief that you are not enough or you don't have enough kill your intention to help.  You can help.  You can. 

Don't allow yourself to beat you up for making the decisions that brought to this place.  Don't put yourself down for not having enough to give. You have enough.  You are enough.  Don't worry... as you intentionally devote your time and money to helping, you empower yourself to figure out ways to give more.  It's a human thing: we want to help.  We are a social species; it is our destiny to give and receive, to be connected to other human beings in a meaningful way.

Step 3. Pick one cause, or one organization, or one person. Pick one way to help.  Follow your heart.  What makes your heart break most?  What brings actual tears to your eyes? 

Do some research to find one local or national or international organization that is effectively doing something to solve the one problem that breaks your heart most.  Then give what you can to that cause.  It's good to have a way to give of your time, not just your money, so you might want to find a local organization that works on the same issue, or that contributes to the organization you chose.  If you can't find one, create one.  Invite your friends over for tea once a month to work together on finding ways to help the organization.  You could all collect your loose change over the month, then come together to count it and write out a check to send.  You could write letters to the editor (maye not like this one) or to congress.  You could make a poster.  You could make a webpage.

Step 4. Remember.  Remember you are one person, and your first priority is to be a healthy human being living a good life.  Remember the reason your heart breaks for your one cause is because you know the people affected by that problem deserve to be healthy. They deserve to live a good life.  So if you are giving up your healthy, good life, you're not really doing them any good.  That doesn't mean you get to live in oppulent luxury and wastefulness.  You know what you need.  You know how little and simple the things are that truly make your dreams come true.  So be honest.  Give what you can honestly give, and let that be part of your good, healthy life.

Post a picture that represents the people or creatures you are helping on your fridge. Carry one around in your pocket. Whenever you are feeling helpless, just pull it out and look at it and remind yourself you are helping. And if you can, help a little more. 

Step 5.  Show and tell.  This is really how you change the world.  Because if every human being takes these steps, if every human being would consciously give what they can out of an honest assessment of the privilege they possess, then you would see huge changes.  You would start to see real equality and real justice.

My college roommate did something I had never seen.  She washed out her food storage plastic bags and resued them.  At the time, I really didn't get it.  I didn't think it was saving much money, and surely, those tiny things didn't add up to much in the landfill.  Why bother.  She never said anything to me about how I should do that, too.  She just did it.  Years later, when I became more aware of the problem of plastic waste, I started washing out my plastic bags and reusing them. And my daughter reuses her plastic bag. Tamara Gorden changed the world.  Her small act of helping multiplied.  I didn't become an Environmental Engineer like she did. I'm sure she's done even bigger things for this earth since I knew her 29 years ago.  But she inspired me to do what I could, to know more, and to do more.

Don't just be the change you want to see in the world, LEAD the change.  Talk to a friend about the issue and ask your friend what breaks her heart. You can help in so many ways that cost very little time and very little money.  Every little thing you can do to help counts.  The way you live your life counts.  Saying kind words to a lonely stranger on the street might affect that person's world in a way you will never know.  Carrying those plates with you to potlucks and work lunches instead of using the paper products provided is keeping one tiny drop of waste out of the waste stream.  But how many people will see you do that?  What if just one percent of them follow your lead?  How many people will see them keeping their tiny drops out of the bucket?  What if five percent of them start doing the same?  And when people comment on your plates, you can have one of your handy dandy statistics ready.  Or, you can just say how easy it is to carry them and wash them rather than using throwaways.  Just calling paper plates throwaways will put a tiny dent in out single-use consumer cultural assumptions.

Here's a little Michael Franti song to spur you on.  Is your love enough?

Bonus activity for those who like to paint the world by numbers

If you would like a way to come up with a goal for your numbers that are fair based on statistics, try this.

Calcuate your annual income per person for your household. Compare it to the average annual income for the globe.  $1,225 per year per person in the household.  So, for my household, to be globally average, we would have to live on $7,350 annually.  Wow, what would that take?

Okay, well, we can't really do anything practical with that, unless you are in a position to sell everything and live like Jesus did.  No, wait.  I could use that number to give meaning to my giving.  I could make it my goal to spend that much each year on helping. I mean, wouldn't that give me a good handle on just how priveleged I am?  To be able to support my own family, plus support another globally average family?  Or I could make my goal half that.  Whatever I can make fit my life without becoming unhealthy or going into debt.

Or, let's just say we want to get out of that elite group: The 1% richest people on the planet.  For my family, that would mean $204,000.  Okay, well we are not in the 1%.  And not many of my friends are, either, as far as I know.  But, before we adopted three kids, that would have been $102,000.  So, we were pretty darn close to being in the Elite group, the most priveleged people in the world.  See, you can decrease your income by giving money to effective groups or you can decrease your income by adding people to you family!

But, the numbers don't really matter that much beyond bringing you awareness of the privelege you enjoy. For me, that awareness decreases the energy I put into feeling jealous and resentful and complaining about what I don't have or what I "can't" afford.  All that energy can go into reducing waste and increasing generosity.  It totally takes the fun out of "shopping as entertainment."